Seek transparency in medical research tax

09/04/2013 4:40 PM

09/04/2013 11:02 PM

Jackson County, this is what your vote is worth to movers and shakers: $75 million.

That’s the amount being dangled. It’s a pledge from Donald J. Hall and his family’s foundation, to be given only if voters approve a half-cent sales tax to fund new medical research. The tentative gift/bribe would cover the cost of constructing a building for researchers.

There is no use arguing that the tax isn’t regressive. Speakers at a news conference Wednesday announcing Hall’s offer didn’t try. It was merely acknowledged that the tax increase is asking a lot of voters. A lot = $800 million, raised over 20 years — about $50 to $60 annually per household.

The idea of marking Kansas City as a nationally recognized center for translational research is among the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s “Big 5” goals to push the region forward, enhance quality of life and create jobs. That’s partly why the heavy pressure to support the tax is coming from the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, the chamber and others significant in the business community.

It’s their vision. They want to see it to completion.

Accountability is key when such idealism must be translated into reality, on the taxpayer’s dime.

If you or your loved one is the one who eventually benefits from the medical advancement, the initial public cost is negligible. But outside factors that influence medical research, like the role of pharmaceutical companies and their need for profit, can make for a complicated mix.

Backers point to multiple levels of transparency, including a five-member board appointed by the county executive, a community advisory board and money for outside audits.

Several aspects need no debate. The primary benefiting organizations — Children’s Mercy, St. Luke’s hospitals and the University of Missouri-Kansas City — have earned solid reputations. Medical research is and will continue to be one of the big industries of the future. A $1 million advertising campaign isn’t necessary to make those points.

How well this public investment would trickle down into jobs and clinical trials and feed into profitable businesses for local residents is key. And it’s a question that can’t be fully answered yet.

Voters will differ on how best to spend public money. But oversight and transparency will always be where big ideas need to genuflect at the feet of voters who are paying the tab.

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