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October 16, 2013

Health tax supporters say levy could improve medical procedures

UMKC says passage of the Jackson County tax would provide money for additional scientists and equipment to study and develop products like a better bone glue. Tax opponents say the research is important but it should be paid for by the federal government, the state or private companies.

Supporters of a half-cent sales tax for medical research said Wednesday the levy would improve important medical procedures — like gluing bones to artificial joints.

“We are developing a new bone cement,” said Lynda Bonewald, the vice chancellor for translational and clinical research at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “It’s a potential billion-dollar market for a medical material that’s developed right here in Jackson County.”

Bonewald and other school officials took reporters on a tour of a bone research facility in UMKC’s dental school. She said passage of the Jackson County tax would provide money for additional scientists and equipment to study and develop products like a better bone glue.

“What this money would provide is a way to maintain a baseline workforce and create more job security for our researchers,” she said.

The tax, on the November ballot in Jackson County, would provide $800 million over 20 years for studies designed to turn basic discoveries into usable medicines and treatments.

Tax opponents say the research is important but it should be paid for by the federal government, the state or private companies.

They also contend the half-cent tax hurts the poor.

“Lobbying for a regressive tax, levied exclusively in our poorest county, is unfortunately another hurdle for Jackson County families hoping to send their kids to UMKC,” said Marcus Leach, a spokesman for the Committee for Responsible Research, which is against the tax.

Meanwhile, mayors from three of Jackson County’s largest cities said Wednesday they’re staying out of the tax debate.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said he supports translational medical research but would not take a position on the tax.

Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross was also neutral but said he really wants his constituents to support that city’s ballot proposal for a half-cent sales tax for parks –– something that Ross said will directly benefit Blue Springs residents.

Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads said he wouldn’t support or oppose the levy, but he worried about the impact on cities if the tax passes.

“Cities have limited sources of revenue, with sales taxes being one of them,” he said. “The underlying concern is that the voters may reject future sales tax issues because there may be a limit to what they are willing to pay.”

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