Legislators Express Support for KCMO Life Sciences Sales Tax

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Members of the Jackson County Legislature on Monday indicated they would like to see some changes to a plan that would establish a taxpayer-supported medical institute on Hospital Hill.

But Theresa Garza Ruiz, vice chairman of the Legislature, said she heard no objections from her colleagues to putting the question before the electorate.

“I didn’t hear any opposition to letting voters decide,” she said. Ruiz chaired Monday’s meeting with the absence of Chairman Greg Grounds.

Proponents of the plan, which would establish the Jackson County Institute for Translational Medicine, want funding for the initiative to come from a half-cent sales tax in the county.

Proponents want the language put to voters in November.

The nine-member Legislature is expected to vote on that plan at its Monday meeting. County officials said it would take six votes to approve the plan next week, given that legislators apparently will amend the ordinance the same day they consider it.

Legislators said that one of the most frequent questions asked of them about the plan was: who was going to pay for the election.

Ruiz said there is precedent from past sales tax elections that initial proceeds from the tax would pay back the county for the cost of the election. Legislators indicated that would be a likely scenario in this case.

One change, suggested by Bob Spence, would be to have a county representative on the board of directors overseeing the institute.

“I think we ought to have ears and a mouth on that board,” he said.

The proposal calls for the county executive to appoint an Oversight and Transparency Board. The board of directors of the institute would also appoint a Community Advisory Board.

Another legislator, James D. Tindall Sr., pressed the proponents to outline how the plan would benefit minorities in the urban core.

“I see no promises at all of anything,” Tindall said.

Leo Morton, chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), said he would follow up with Tindall about his concerns.

UMKC is one of the four institutions that would make up the institute. Morton was on hand along with representatives of the other institutions.

“The reality is that we are going to pass this out (of the Legislature),” Tindall said. “The other thing is: How are you going to get it passed in the community?”

Also representing the proponents was Pete Levi, the former president of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. He is working on the plan as an attorney with the Polsinelli law firm.

Asked about the proposal for a sales tax — as opposed to some other financing mechanism — Levi said a sales tax seemed to be the “most equitable” of some of the possibilities.

He noted that some of the sales tax would be paid by people from outside the area. A property tax, by contrast, would hit only local residents.

Proponents of the tax also said there would be safeguards built into business transactions to ensure that proceeds from the intellectual property developed at the institute would benefit the local community.

Echoing some of the testimony given by the proponents, legislator Dennis Waits said, “The greatest risk is not doing it. That is the real message we need to take away from here.”

The Legislature’s meeting came a week and a half after proponents unveiled the proposal.

According to the proposal, voters would authorize the half-cent sales tax increase for 20 years.

Organizers estimate the tax would generate $40 million a year. But according to an analysis conducted for the supporters, the institute would generate more than $600 million in economic impact during its first decade.

The tax would fund research at a newly created organization called the Jackson County Institute for Translational Medicine, a partnership between Children’s Mercy Hospital, Saint Luke’s Health System, UMKC, and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

The Jackson County institute’s focus would be on commercializing pharmaceuticals, diagnostic tools, medical devices and other intellectual property, with some of its proceeds earmarked for meeting local needs such as health care for the poor.

The expectation is that the institute would have nine primary investigators and nearly 240 staff members within the first 10 years of operation.

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