Unless its a sham of a public hearing today, Jackson County legislators should be able to get the answers to at least three key questions regarding a proposed $800 million sales tax for medical research.
By Yael T. Abouhalkah
The Kansas City Star
Lawmakers are holding a public hearing on a request to place a half-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot. It would raise $40 million annually for 20 years.
Children's Mercy Hospital would get half the money. St. Lukes Hospital and the University of Missouri-Kansas City each would get $8 million a year, with the remaining $4 million going to other causes.
Supporters say the money could be used to hire top-flight and very handsomely compensated researchers along with their staffs. And millions of dollars worth of costly lab equipment could be purchased, too.
The Civic Council of Greater Kansas City is pressuring lawmakers to rush the proposal to the Nov. 5 ballot, meaning the legislature would have to endorse it by Aug. 26.
Here are three questions that deserve answers today:
• Will the public know how all of the $40 million a year is used?
Given that these are taxpayer funds, it would make sense that the recipients would have to provide public documentation of the salaries and benefits provided to employees hired with the tax receipts.
The public also should get a full report on what kind of lab equipment was bought and how much it cost. These labs can cost millions of dollars to equip.
• Given that Jackson Countys median household income is $46,874 annually, is a half-cent sales tax increase justified for a plan that would send much of the money to researchers who could be paid five, 10 or more times that much a year?
One other possibility is for the Legislature to reduce the size of the requested tax increase say, to one-quarter cent and put pressure on the philanthropic community and other funders to continue funneling more money into medical research.
• How will the public be assured that Children's Mercy and St. Lukes hospitals along with UMKC use their sizable amount of new funds on additional medical research?
One of the worst things that could happen would be for the recipients to slice their current funding on medical research in an effort to free up those funds for other purposes, such as construction of new hospital wings or other expenses.
The tax, at least as its being pushed right now, is supposed to be in addition to current funding from foundations, companies and other sources.
The Jackson County Legislature owes it to taxpayers to know, after today, just how much information the Civic Council, Childrens Mercy Hospital and other supporters of this tax are going to provide the public in the future if the plan makes it on the ballot in the first place and voters eventually approve it.