By Jeff Fox
Voters in Jackson County on Tuesday gave a firm no to a sales tax to fund translational medical research.
The measure lost by a margin of more than five to one – 64,486 (84.2 percent) votes no and 12,066 (15.76 percent) votes yes.
About half of the county’s population is in Eastern Jackson County, but those voters came out in stronger numbers and said no a little more emphatically than voters in Kansas City. The no votes were 39,226 (86.13 percent) outside Kansas City, compared with yes votes of 6,319 (13.87 percent). In Kansas City, it was 25,260 to 5,747, meaning 81.47 percent of the voters said no.
“We’re disappointed for research, obviously, but it was the right decision,” said Brad Bradshaw, who was among the most prominent opponents of the plan. He said he favors translational medical research that benefits the whole state of Missouri but the Jackson County-only approach wasn’t the way to go.
The half-cent sales tax would have generated $40 million a year for 20 years to pay for translational research, that is, moving from basic scientific findings to actual drugs, devices and therapies. Advocates said the tax, used to hire top-flight researchers, would bring jobs to the area and improve health care in the region. They said that critical research link – between the lab and the bedside – is an area of unmet need as well as great potential. Areas of the country that have embraced this are seeing growth in high-skill, good-paying jobs, they said.
But opponents said a sales tax is regressive and would help well-to-do hospitals at the expense of average citizens. They said such research holds no guarantees of success. Advocates said the research teams drawn to the area by a stable funding stream would spur innovation and new businesses, but critics said much of that benefit would bleed into Johnson County.
“Well, obviously we’re disappointed in the result. This would have been transformational for Jackson County,” said Wayne O. Carter, president and CEO of the Kansas City Life Sciences Institute, one of the chief advocates of the proposal.
He added that a lot of money was spent to oppose the tax – voters got a stream of fliers in the mail over the past few weeks – and he said opponents spread misinformation about the tax.
“There is not a plan B right now,” Carter said Tuesday night, but he added, “We are really committed to the life sciences in Kansas City.”
Bradshaw has favored a statewide tax for translational medicine, an issue that could go the voters in the future, but Tuesday night he stressed that “a long and drawn out educational process” would be needed.
“But we want to do it the right way. ... If it has any chance of success, we’d like to do it,” he said.