Jackson County to debate sales tax to fund medical research

rpulley@lsjournal.comAugust 16, 2013 

A partnership that includes St. Luke’s Health System and Children’s Mercy Hospital is asking for the chance to sell Jackson County voters on a half-cent sales tax that would fund a “world-class” medical research collaborative.

However, supporters of the initiative first have to sell it to county legislators who will decide whether to put the proposal on the November ballot.

The proposed Institute for Translational Research and Medicine would be a collaboration between Children’s Mercy, St. Luke’s and the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, and Nursing and Health Studies and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

Under the plan, the institute would recruit and employ an “elite” group of physician scientists and support staff to conduct advanced research.

They would do bedside studies and trials and “translate” new knowledge into breakthrough medicines, treatments and cures.

The sales tax is projected to raise about $40 million a year to cover salaries, labs and equipment.

Proponents say the direct and indirect economic benefit would be more than $600 million in the first decade.

Legislator Bob Spence, who represents the 6th District including Lee’s Summit, said he is in the process of making up his mind on the issue.

“I’ve got a pile of stuff to read about this,” Spence said. “The basic premise is really attractive, if they can cure a disease, especially a children’s disease, and we can have a hand in it, it would be wonderful.”

He said economic gain by the area and the county would be “icing on the cake.”

Spence said the idea of a November election, when the county would carry a large part of the cost, bothers him, but is not a deal killer.

The tax revenue would be shared between institutions with 50-percent going to research overseen by Children’s Mercy, 20 percent by UMKC and 20 percent by St. Luke’s. The institute’s board will designate the last 10 percent for economic-development initiatives such as helping residents prepare for health care and research jobs through the Metropolitan Community College.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders would appoint a five-member oversight board to oversee administration of the funds.

The plan calls for Jackson County to share in any commercial benefits of the therapies developed.

Not less than 20-percent of net revenue from the intellectual property owned, designed or developed by the researchers will be remitted to the county for resident’s investment by contributing a half-cent sales tax.

In Lee’s Summit, in Jackson County, shoppers pay a basic 7.725 cents on each $1 for sales tax.

Many of the major shopping areas also add a half-cent or one-cent tax collected for a community improvement or transportation district. Lee’s Summit gets 2.25 cents of the total sales tax.

Jim Devine, president of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, said that like the Sprint Campus and skill sets for information technology are drivers for the regions economy, “so is health care an emerging industry.”

He said there is a conflict between the advantages the plan might bring to the region, but if it passes first, it could be a drag on future initiatives Lee’s Summit might want to undertake.

“There is a breaking point in the public’s mind,” Devine said.

It’s a problem of having multiple levels of government with but competing needs, without any easy answers, but can be improved by regional planning and dialogue.

The idea for a regional translational research institute has been kicked around for several years as part of an area-wide life sciences initiative. It was one of the Big 5 initiatives proposed in 2011 by the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City.

The opening for a vote in Jackson County came earlier this year, when Sanders pulled back plans for a 1-cent sales tax ballot measure to build a commuter rail line.

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton, in a prepared statement, said “Armed with the resources of this exciting new collaboration, we can make this region one of just a handful of communities in the U.S. – and really the world – where a critical mass of talent, resources and opportunity establishes us as a contender for attracting the best and brightest clinicians, scientists and entrepreneurs in the medical field.”

The Kansas City Star contributed to this article.

Lee's Summit Journal is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service