Lee’s Summit Chamber debates health-care sales tax

rpulley@lsjournal.comOctober 9, 2013 

  • $6

    Amount in millions the Jackson County sales tax for research would raise in Lee’s Summit, of a $40 million estimated total each year

The Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce is debating whether to endorse a proposed health-research sales tax, which goes before to voters next month.

Jackson County has placed a 20-year, half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 5 ballot to hire researchers and staff to conduct research projects at a consortium of hospitals and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The Chamber’s executive board will vote on the issue Oct. 16 and its Governmental Relations Committee, in late September, heard a pitch for the tax from promoters, with mixed results.

The tax would raise about $800 million over its lifetime for the proposed Translational Medicine Institute of Jackson County, which is to be a collaboration of Children’s Mercy Hospital, St. Luke’s Health System, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s medical schools and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

Lee’s Summit residents would contribute about $6 million a year to the $40 million predicted raised in the county, an estimate based on what the city’s current half-cent tax collects locally for capital improvements.

Several oversight boards will be created determine what research projects are supported and monitor the spending.

Children’s Mercy Hospital would get about half the money, St. Luke’s Hospital and UMKC about 20 percent, roughly $8 million per year, and 10 percent goes for other economic development, such as job training at Metropolitan Community College.

Bob Glaser, chair of the Chamber’s executive board, strongly supports the tax.

“We need to do this,” Glaser said, in an interview, saying voters should look at the “big picture.”

The tax will fund research on new treatments that will be available to patients at St. Luke’s Hospital East in Lee’s Summit, Glaser said, a direct benefit to those with diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.

He said proof of its worthiness is the promise by Donald Hall, Sr. and the Hall Family Foundation to give $75 million for a medical research building at Children Mercy Hospital, if the tax passes. The building would house the institute.

“I think this is important to Kansas City’s future,” Glaser said. “Down the road, it really will help Lee’s Summit, it will bring a lot of biotech companies to Kansas City and the state.”

He cited Cerner Corporation as an example of the importance of biotech as emerging economy in Kansas City.

Glaser said voters should have some confidence in the blue-ribbon set of community leaders who helped put together the proposal.

Promoters of the tax, David Westbrook, vice president of strategy and innovation for Children’s Mercy Hospital, Pete Levi and Wayne Carter, CEO of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, spoke to the Chamber’s Governmental Relations Committee in late September.

That committee didn’t make a formal recommendation, and the issue is going to other chamber committees for a full vetting before being discussed by the executive board, said Mark Dickey, vice-president of the Chamber. Dickey said committee members wanted more answers on regarding governance of the tax and transparency and commercialization of any discoveries.

One issue is whether the county can use profits of any drugs or devices developed with tax funds to benefit roads or other essential services, aside from health care, he said.

Dickey said members had some skepticism that regarding how many new blue or white-collar jobs will be created, beyond the research labs, because this region doesn’t have large number of production facilities for drugs or medical devices.

Lee’s Summit Councilmember Rob Binney, at the meeting, noted that Lee’s Summit has infrastructure improvements it needs to make and might need additional tax dollars.

Ron Williams, chair of the Governmental Relations Committee and Dickey said there was a straw poll with 10 members for endorsing the proposal, several against and the rest undecided.

Williams said he leans toward letting private investors fund such research. He questions how much new businesses will be created, he said he didn’t see a huge boom, yet, from the Stowers Institute, already in place.

He said he has a “real problem” with the fact that Jackson County taxpayers will pay salaries of researchers, but those researchers will not be required them to live in the county.

“I’m not convinced what it will do for Lee’s Summit,” Williams said

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