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KC voters strongly back tax renewal for health care

Updated: 2013-04-11T19:13:49Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Obamacare may hold out hope of insuring millions more Americans, but Kansas City voters decided Tuesday that was a promise they couldn’t quite trust.

Instead they overwhelmingly put their trust, by a 76 percent to 24 percent margin, in the nine-year renewal of a local property tax to ensure health care access for people who may remain uninsured or underinsured despite the new federal health care law.

The tax was first approved in 2005, but it failed north of the Missouri River at that time, and succeeded only with big support south of the river. This time, it passed decisively both north and south of the Missouri River.

“It’s a statement that people matter,” said John Bluford, chief executive of Truman Medical Centers, one of the key recipients of the funds.

The indigent health care tax is 22 cents per $100 of assessed value and had been scheduled to expire in 2014. It will now continue to cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $43 per year. That’s on top of another permanent health care property tax that costs the same owner about $94 each year.

Also Tuesday, by a 78 percent to 22 percent margin, Kansas City voters approved a measure to fix a loophole in the city’s hotel tax. The measure eliminates a provision that exempts nonprofits from paying the local 7.5 percent hotel bed tax. Kansas City was the only city in Missouri with that exemption, and it was costing the city about $2 million per year.

In a third ballot measure, voters crushed a citizens initiative that would have prevented Kansas City from subsidizing contractors or suppliers doing business with the new weapons plant at 150 Highway and Botts Road in south Kansas City.

By a 77 percent to 23 percent margin, Kansas City voters said the city should be allowed to participate in some financial way in the production of parts for nuclear weapons.

“The voters have spoken,” said City Councilman Scott Taylor, who lives in south Kansas City and supported the jobs retained by the weapons plant. “I think they understood the importance of maintaining the climate where our businesses can succeed, can create jobs and can create investment.”

The health levy vote means Kansas City will continue to collect about $15 million annually to support safety net providers who serve the working poor. Truman Medical Centers will get the lion’s share, about $10.2 million. The city’s ambulance service will get $2.4 million per year. The remaining $2.4 million will go for five clinics: Northland Health Care Access, Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, Cabot Westside Health Center, Swope Health Services and KC Care Clinic (formerly the free health clinic).

Critics had said now was not the time to be adding to people’s property tax burden, and the nine-year renewal was too long.

But there was no organized campaign opposition to the levy renewal. Supporters said it was needed because of ongoing uncertainty concerning the federal health care law. They said Kansas City’s providers have spent the money responsibly since 2005, and it is needed to make sure that people who lose their jobs or health care coverage can still get quality health care services.

The debate had additional resonance in Missouri, where the General Assembly so far has resisted the federal government’s encouragement to expand Medicaid coverage to more families.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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