By Mary Wilson
Supporters and opponents to Jackson County’s Question 1, to be on November ballots, presented their cases at last Wednesday’s Southern Communities Coalition. The question, as follows, is in
regards to an independent medical research facility in Jackson County. The Hall Family Foundation and Donald J. Hall, Sr. have pledged to pay for the construction of a $75 million research facility to house the institute if the voters approve a half-cent sales tax increase to fund its creation and ongoing operations.
QUESTION No. 1: Shall the County of Jackson impose a sales tax at the rate of one-half of one percent for a period of 20 years solely for the purpose of promoting economic development by establishing a medical research and development institute in collaboration with and governed by an independent board composed of Children’s Mercy Hospital, Saint Luke’s Hospital, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and Jackson County, that would create healthcare related jobs in the County and develop medical cures and discoveries for human diseases? All of the proceeds of this tax shall be deposited in a special account separate from the Jackson County general fund and any other special funds and utilized only for the purposes approved by the voters and set forth herein. An annual independent audit of these funds will be overseen by an oversight and audit board appointed by the County Executive and will be reported to the public and the Jackson County Legislature. According to the Committee for Research Treatments and Cures, proponents of this project, the Halls’ private contribution eliminates the need for taxpayer dollars to go toward bricks and mortar and will enable the tax dollars to go directly toward hiring scientists, researchers and support staff, along with needed equipment.
“It is to take research and accelerate it quickly into cures,” said Wayne Carter, CEO of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.
Advocates for a yes vote on question one touted the potential economic development that can come from the institute. They say that the institute is expected to create more than $30 million in economic output in its first year of operation, and within ten years it is projected to have a world-class team of scientific investigators along with hundreds of support staff. The development of new medications, treatments and cures could potentially induce more than $600 million in direct and indirect economic benefits for Jackson County in its first decade.
“Please keep in mind the economic development potential for our Southland area,” said former State Representative and 6th District Councilwoman Cathy Jolly. “We’re really in a poised position in the south to take advantage of the things that are happening in healthcare. I’m supporting question number one because of the promises of research. Question number one is moving Kansas City forward.”
Those on the other side of the issue included a representative from both the League of Women Voters and the Committee to Stop a Bad Cure’s Jim Fitzpatrick, who formed the committee the day after Jackson County legislature voted to put the issue on the November ballot. Both groups were in agreement that Jackson County residents should not be expected to pay a tax for medical research.
“It is, frankly, the worst tax proposal that I have seen in my forty-four years of living in Kansas City,” said Fitzpatrick. “Funding medical research is not a county function or priority, and sales taxes hit people with low incomes the hardest.”
The opponents were also in agreement that the private sector should finance it, either through private companies or foundations. According to the League of Women Voters, sales taxes take a bigger percentage out of the budget of lower income people than from those of higher income, making it more difficult for people to stretch their budgets to buy basic items.
The ballot, along with polling places in Jackson County, is in this issue of the Advocate on page 2.