I hate to be the turd in the punch bowl of Kansas City civic leaders, but I think their push for a 20-year, half-cent sales tax to go toward medical research is a bad idea right now.
Civic and educational leaders, including Donald J. Hall Sr. of Hallmark Cards and UMKC chancellor Leo Morton, are urging the Jackson County Legislature to approve a measure for the Nov. 5 ballot that would raise the sales tax in Kansas City, Jackson County, to almost 9 percent.
The legislature could vote on the measure at its meeting next Monday. The legislature has until the end of the month — a week from Saturday — to approve the measure.
Kansas City area residents first learned about this on Aug. 8, when The Star’s Mike Hendricks and Alan Bavley had a front-page story, laying out the details.
In a nutshell, the tax would generate about $40 million a year. Half the proceeds would go to Children’s Mercy Hospital; St. Luke’s Health System and UMKC would each get 20 percent; and the remaining 10 percent — $400,000 a year — “would go to further economic initiatives, such as helping train research assistants at the Metropolitan Community Colleges,” according to The Star.
A couple of the big selling points that proponents will harp on are that:
:: The bulk of the money will go toward “translational research,” which, essentially, means “translating” scientific discoveries into drugs, procedures and devices that will quickly help patients.
:: This is an opportunity “to bring in rock star researchers who can develop a product that can be turned into a start-up company,” according to a researcher whom The Star’s story quoted.
This is going to be a well-planned and well-financed campaign. Political consultant Steve Glorioso has been hired, probably along with running mate Pat Gray, to sell the campaign to the public. The Civic Council (consisting of the chief executives of the largest companies in the area) and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City will provide the muscle and money.
From here on out, I’m just going to call this the Civic Council Sales Tax.
The Civic Council already has this proposal moving down the tracks, and it’s going to be hard to stop. The only way it’s going to be defeated is if a majority of voters take a look at it and, like me, scratch their heads and say, “Why?”
Here are some of the reasons I think the Civic Council Sales Tax is a bad idea at this time.
1) At something like 8.3 or 8.4 percent in Kansas City, Jackson County, the sales tax is plenty high. It’s a regressive tax, which disproportionately hits people with lower incomes. As a Kansas City resident named Don Biggs said in an Aug. 20 letter to the editor: “Enough is enough.”
2) The ballot language will say the tax would be imposed for 20 years, but fat chance of it ending then. Jackson County’s quarter-cent COMBAT tax (Community Backed Anti-drug Tax), initially approved in 1989, was to be collected for seven years. Voters re-approved it in 1996, 2003 and 2009…Once enacted, sales taxes tend to become as stationary as redwoods in California.
3) The county would be levying and collecting this tax. Almost any tax that comes through Jackson County is, to me, suspect. (COMBAT?) Also, this is the same county that thoroughly botched the property reappraisal process this year and had to pull the plug on increased (and erroneous) property assessments for thousands and thousands of homeowners. The debacle cost the assessment director his job. County Executive Mike Sanders got off without too much egg on his face, partly because this was the first big, embarrassing mistake the county made on his watch. (By the way, Sanders is a big proponent of the Civic Council Sales Tax.)
4) Kansas City already has one humongous health-care research institution, the Stowers Institute on Volker Boulevard. They’ve got a bunch of “rock star researchers” over there, but I sure haven’t heard about any revolutionary, make-you-stand-on-your-head discoveries that have changed the course of medicine.
5) I would bet that a majority of Civic Council members and Chamber of Commerce board members Kansas residents. In a sense, they want to impose the tax on Missouri residents. Do we want Kansans, who enjoy the city’s major cultural and sporting facilities virtually tax free, calling the shots on our side of the line?
6) When I look at the sky-high medical-service charges that go through my Medicare account and my Blue Cross/Blue Shield supplemental plan, I think that the most pressing priority is health-care reform.
I’m talkin’ REFORM, as in bringing charges DOWN to something approaching a reasonable, logical level.
How in the world would “rock star researchers” help bring down costs? Won’t happen, right? All they would do is add fuel to the health-care rocket ship.
I encourage you, then, Jackson County residents, to do as I plan to do: Vote “No” on the Civic Council Sales Tax.
Correction: It’s Donald Hall Jr. who’s out front for the sales tax.