Jackson County can benefit from research tax

09/14/2013 5:00 PM

09/17/2013 7:06 PM

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the proposed Jackson County Medical Research Tax is very similar to a tax passed in Johnson County in 2008 — only on steroids. In Johnson County, the tax is a piddling eighth of a cent. In Jackson County, it is a substantial half cent.

Whether it was modeled after the Johnson County Education and Research Triangle, it should be. The tax in Johnson County has proved to be a powerhouse of research, education and economic development. It is everything promised to taxpayers and more.

The $15 million a year in Johnson County sales tax revenue is split three ways, just as the Jackson County tax will be, if voters approve. The Jackson County tax will generate $40 million a year.

Consider what the three beneficiaries of the Johnson County tax have accomplished.

The University of Kansas Clinical Research Center in Fairway focuses on early tests for new cancer treatments, as well as clinical trials for the Alzheimer’s Disease Center. The goal is to provide 30 trials, involving 300 patients. It is one of the finest facilities of its kind in the nation.

Kansas State’s Olathe Innovation Campus was completed in 2011. It provides education, training, and research for animal health and food safety. Its research component includes developing with China vaccines to fight animal diseases; the creation of an Urban Water Institute’s lab, which is researching how water affects animal health; and its bioscience lab is studying food-borne illnesses.

The University of Kansas Edwards campus in Overland Park has built with the tax funds a new facility to house business, engineering, science and technology. As promised to voters, the campus is on its way to establishing 10 new degrees in those fields.

Like the Jackson County proposal, JCERT has an independent board that oversees the expenditure of all funds, and an outside audit is conducted annually.

Although the vote passed with nearly 60 percent approval, there were plenty of skeptics, just as there are bound to be with the Jackson County proposal.

The same questions asked in 2008 will be asked between now and the November election in Jackson County.

Why is the money needed?

How do we know the money will be well spent?

Why should a sales tax, which is regressive, be the method for raising the funds?

The answers given in 2008 are not all that different from today’s answers.

The money is needed because Jackson County — like Johnson County — recognized a tremendous new asset for the community could be created that could not be funded by the state. It adds a whole new dimension to a community that wants to be on the leading edge and will spur much needed economic development.

Its sole focus in Jackson County would be on “translational research,” which simply means developing cures and treatments that would improve health care.

The independent board will ensure the money is well spent, but more importantly, the institutions receiving the funds already have excellent reputations. Children’s Mercy Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, and University of Missouri-Kansas City are just as stalwart as the three beneficiaries in Johnson County —KU, K-State, and the KU Medical Center.

Yes, the sales tax is regressive, and that is unfortunate. But there are not many other places to go to raise the kinds of funds that are needed. The property tax is the most logical alternative, yet that tax hits those on fixed incomes.

There is speculation that at least a million dollars will be spent in the campaign to seek approval of this special tax.

Although Jackson County and Johnson County are often rivals, it might not hurt if a few bucks were spent pointing to a tremendously successful outcome from approving a special tax used, to a great extent, for research — and it is happening right next door.

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