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Surprising opponent to Jackson County tax

Updated: 2013-09-17T16:53:22Z

By MIKE HENDRICKS

The Kansas City Star

No tax hike put before the voters ever skates by unopposed.

So backers of a Jackson County medical research tax on the November ballot expected pushback from the folks who can always be counted on to oppose any effort to raise taxes.

But what they didn’t see coming was someone like Brad Bradshaw getting in their way. An individual willing to spend big money — six figures and counting — opposing the tax for exactly the opposite reason you’d think.

The Springfield-based personal injury attorney thinks the county sales tax is a bad idea not because it raises too much money, but rather because, as he contends, it raises too little.

“It does not generate enough funds to perform true research to find cures,” he said, a contention that particularly annoys tax supporters.

The $40 million that a half-cent Jackson County sales tax would bring in annually for medical research, Bradshaw says, is “not even close” to what it would take to bring the promised results of medical cures.

Instead, he favors a statewide research tax that would raise 10 times that amount to find new treatments for diseases that now confound doctors. Passing a countywide tax, be believes, would harm that statewide effort.

The civic leaders behind the Jackson County effort dispute Bradshaw’s conclusions and find the TV commercials he’s been running the last couple of weeks nettlesome.

“This mysterious guy from Springfield is spending a lot of money to present misleading information, ironically about an issue with which he basically agrees,” said Pat O’Neill, spokesman for the Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures.

Backers of the proposed county tax say it is adequate to make a major difference, medically and economically. It would bring in $800 million over its 20-year life, leverage millions more for research and create hundreds of jobs.

But while dismissing his arguments, tax backers clearly cannot dismiss Bradshaw.

So far he’s pumped more than $100,000 into the campaign committee he created to fight the tax, Citizens for Responsible Research. That amount will grow, he promises, in the eight weeks until Election Day.

“We may not raise the same dollar-for-dollars amount that they have to spend on the election,” he said, “but we want to have enough money to educate the people of Jackson County on why this is a bad tax.”

Kansas City’s civic community, which has rallied in support of the research tax, promises to spend $1 million to convince Jackson County voters of the wisdom of funding the proposed Jackson County Institute of Translational Medicine. As of Monday, they’d raised $675,000 of that, filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission show.

If voters ratify the proposal, the institute would funnel all but 10 percent of the tax money collected to two hospitals and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Children’s Mercy would get about $20 million annually, while St. Luke’s and the health professional schools at UMKC would each get $8 million.

Those funds would go to hire, equip and provide support staff for top scientists working on potential medical breakthroughs. In addition to finding cures, supporters say, the research effort would have an economic impact of more than $600 million in the first 10 years that the tax is collected.

It’s already producing possible spinoffs. Earlier this month, the chairman of Hallmark Cards Inc., Donald J. Hall, announced that he and his family’s foundation would pay $75 million for a new research building at Children’s Mercy. But only if the tax passed.

In his ads and in interviews, Bradshaw questions the economic impact numbers and thinks most of the tax money will go to subsidize the two hospital systems rather than result in new treatments.

“In large part, it’s a money grab,” he said.

That’s a charge that officials at the Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures claim is unfair and misleading. Moreover, they question Bradshaw’s motives.

“It is perplexing,” O’Neill said, “why an out-of-town lawyer who makes a living suing hospitals would want to deny Jackson County citizens the opportunity to improve their lives through advanced medical research and health care.”

Bradshaw, 52, says neither he nor his motivations are mysterious or perplexing.

He’s had a deep interest in medical research, he said, since his teens. Fresh out of high school, he came to Kansas City from Springfield to attend the UMKC School of Medicine’s unusual six-year program. At the end of those six years, students leave with both a bachelor’s degree and one in medicine.

State records show he became a licensed physician in 1987.

“I enjoyed medicine and I enjoyed surgery,” he said. “I actually considered going into research.”

But early in his career as a physician, he encountered many patients who’d been hurt in car wrecks or were damaged because of a doctor’s mistakes.

“And I thought I want to help these people,” he said. “They need someone championing them.”

He entered UMKC law school and was admitted to the bar in 1992.

He’s become very successful as a personal injury lawyer, specializing in medical malpractice cases and representing people harmed in accidents involving semi-trailer trucks.

Damage awards for his clients are sometimes in the millions of dollars. More than once he’s been on Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s annual list of “winningest plaintiff lawyers,” with offices in Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City.

In an interview at his office on the Country Club Plaza, Bradshaw said his interest in establishing a state medical research institute dates back to his law school days, although his notion of having it funded by taxpayers is of more recent vintage.

He explained his proposal, he says, to some of those now seeking a Jackson County tax more than a year ago and wrote up a proposed constitutional amendment.

His plan was to begin collecting signatures for it next year with the idea of taking it to the voters in 2016.

He was not at all happy when he learned that the business community in Kansas City was asking the Jackson County Legislature to put a local tax issue on the ballot.

“I did not give them permission to use my ideas,” Bradshaw wrote county legislators in in an email dated Aug. 15. “And their proposal has bad problems. I should know, my idea is much better.”

But backers of the county tax say Kansas City has long been positioning itself to become a center for medical research and say it’s far-fetched to think a statewide research tax would ever become a reality.

“His way or no way” is how Steve Glorioso, another spokesman for the pro-tax effort, describes Bradshaw’s position.

So far, Bradshaw has had the airwaves to himself, with billboard advertising next up.

But the Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures is ramping up its campaign.

“We will speak before every neighborhood, business and community group possible,” O’Neill said, “and use newspapers, the Internet and the airwaves between now and Nov. 5 to make sure everyone knows the fact and the very real promise of a translational medicine institute in Kansas City and Jackson County.”

The campaign website: www.jacksoncountycures.com.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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