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Examiner
  • Research tax idea vetted

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  • Jackson County legislators appeared Monday to be closer to putting a half-cent “translational medical research” sales tax on the November ballot, but they peppered advocates with a broad range of questions and expressed some concerns. Legislators said they’ll take up the issue again next Monday, the day before they would need to act to get it on the Nov. 5 ballot. “Obviously this is ... a true game-changer for Jackson County,” Peter S. Levi, former president and CEO of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and a proponent of the initiative, told legislators. The idea is to create a steady, long-term – 20 years – source of funding for the kind of high-end research that attracts the most talented medical researchers from around the country. “Translational” research, as advocates describe it, goes from what’s been proven possible in the lab to what’s developed for use at the bedside or in the doctor’s office. “This is about collaboration, and it’s about expansion” of the work done already at Children’s Mercy Hospital, the Saint Luke’s Health System and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Levi said. The tax would help cluster research – and high-paying jobs – in the county, particularly in the Hospital Hill area, advocates said. Legislators had many questions, however. Legislator Scott Burnett, D-Kansas City, said it would be too easy for research done here to be bought by a large pharmaceutical company and moved elsewhere. “This is not nearly what you’re going to need to keep it in Jackson County,” he said. There is, however, a provision in the ballot language what would give the county 20 percent of any of the proceeds from drugs or therapies developed with support from the tax. That money would go for indigent care and public health initiatives. Advocates say even if a drug is made elsewhere the county would still benefit. “It’s like Gatorade. The University of Florida is still doing pretty well with Gatorade,” said Dr. Michael Artman, pediatrician in chief at Children’s Mercy. Legislator Bob Spence, R-Lee’s Summit, said he’s leaning toward supporting the issue but also advised against counting too heavily on the 20 percent cut, which advocates say would be years down the road. “You know, if the odds were great on that, you’d have venture capitalists lined up out the door,” he said. Legislator James Tindall, D-Kansas City, said the African-American community has historically strongly supported sales tax issues but said that community “has been denied and lied to” on past promises regarding what those taxes would bring. “But the reality is we’re going to pass this out, but, however, how are you going to pass it in the community?” he pressed advocates to answer. Leo E. Morton, chancellor at UMKC – one of the three existing institutions that would get the research money – stressed the university’s commitment to the urban core, specifically Hospital Hill. He said, as did other proponents, the sales tax would mean better care overall for people in the community, including in such areas as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions that hit African-Americans and other minority communities hard. “I believe that what we’re trying to do is solve the issues that plague the community,” Morton said. Legislators also said they have been asked a lot about who will pay for the election. The county has budgeted for an election in November. Originally that was going to be on a commuter rail plan, but that’s on hold. In past elections, such as for renovations to Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums in 2006 and the renewal of the county’s anti-drug tax in 2009, the county paid for the election and then recouped those costs when the tax money started coming in. Officials suggested they might take that approach. The money, all for research, would go in four directions: • Half to Children’s Mercy. • 20 percent to UMKC. • 20 percent to Saint Luke’s. •10 percent to a new entity, the Jackson County Institute for Translational Medicine. That institute would be a creation of Saint Luke’s, UMKC, Children’s Mercy and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, a group kickstarted several years ago by the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City. Some legislators said the transparent governance of that new institute and the money overall needs more details. Legislators meet at noon next Monday in Independence to make a final decision.
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