Yael T. Abouhalkah

Freedom Inc. deals big blow to $800 million research tax increase

Updated: 2013-10-07T00:00:41Z

By Yael T. Abouhalkah

The Kansas City Star

A decision by Freedom Inc. leaders Thursday night to unanimously oppose an $800 million medical research plan is a big blow to passage of the half-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 5 Jackson County ballot.

Freedom is counted on to publicize issues in large parts of Kansas City’s black communities.

Although its power to “deliver votes” is constantly debated by local politicians, there’s no doubt Freedom was courted for this election.

Both proponents and opponents of the tax showed up to press their case a few weeks ago with Freedom officials.

Leaders of Kansas City’s top civic organizations have been out front in promoting the tax. It would raise $40 million a year for 20 years for research aimed at finding cures and for improving medical devices and treatments. Children’s Mercy Hospital would get $20 million a year, while St. Luke’s Hospital and the University of Missouri-Kansas City would get $8 million each.

The Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, along with a few top businesses in town, are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a heart-tugging media campaign to pass the tax. And it has attracted support from some outside groups in recent weeks. Here’s a full list so far.

However, Freedom’s decision to urge black residents as well as the rest of Jackson County to vote “no” on the tax is one of the first high-publicity failures for proponents of the tax.

Here’s the money quote from the Freedom press release, which hits the nail on the head for why many people do not think this issue should be approved next month:

“Our community has supported sales taxes in the past. However, the general consensus is that this tax, at this time, and for this purpose is too burdensome and does not address the most pressing needs of the community.”

Here’s the full text of the Freedom Inc. news release:

Freedom, Incorporation held a special meeting tonight to determine its position on the Translational Research 1/2 cent sales tax. The membership voted unanimously to oppose the tax.

Over the last several weeks the organization's leadership team has been engaged in vetting the issues with both proponents and opponents of the tax. Freedom members were able to hear from both sides of the issue at its regular meeting on September 19th. However, no vote was taken at that time.

The Leadership Team gathered significant input from people who will pay the tax, spoke to residents and neighborhood leaders throughout Jackson County. Most, either privately or publicly, oppose the tax for various reasons, including the most important issue: the regressive nature of the tax which does little to create jobs for area residents who need jobs now. Additionally, it does nothing to improve basic services needed by area residents.

Other concerns include, how precisely these funds will be used to benefit citizens of the African American community and other unemployed and under employed residents of this city and county.

Our community has supported sales taxes in the past. However, the general consensus is that this tax, at this time, and for this purpose is too burdensome and does not address the most pressing needs of the community.

The translational research tax may create high paying jobs for people who already have high paying jobs. Now is not the time to ask the poor, the unemployed and the underemployed people who can least afford it to bear the burden of an additional tax for 20 years.

Although the proposal maybe well-intentioned, Freedom, Inc. shares the concerns of the community that the sales tax will disproportionately hit lower-income families the hardest.

Research is far removed from Jackson County’s core responsibilities, which are 1) to assess, collect and distribute taxes, 2) record deeds and 3) provide basic services, such as police and fire, in the county’s unincorporated areas. We do not believe translational research is the responsibility of Jackson County residents. If this is a worthy endeavor the private sector, including philanthropic organizations and wealthy foundations, should make the investment, not people who can’t afford it.

Freedom, Incorporated believes in medical research leading to medical cures and improvements in health care treatment, but not on the backs of people who can least afford to pay and will not likely have immediate accessibility to the cures, when and if they should occur.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah.

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