KC’s foundations could fund the $800 million medical research plan

09/16/2013 7:00 AM

09/17/2013 7:07 PM

Some of Kansas City’s top business leaders say it’s really, really important to finance an $800 million medical research plan.

So they are asking taxpayers to pass a regressive, half-cent sales tax on Nov. 5.

But there is an alternative: Kansas City’s foundations could finance the translational medical research programs benefiting Children’s Mercy and St. Luke’s hospitals, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The math works this way.

• The lug on taxpayers through the half-cent sales tax would be $40 million a year.

• Just the three largest foundations in town could come up with about $36 million a year by putting aside 1 percent of their assets each year.

That’s the Kauffman Foundation ($1.7 billion), the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation ($1.1 billion) and the Hall Family Foundation ($800 million). Added up, that’s a conservative total of $3.6 billion in foundation muscle right there.

Of course, civic leaders also could lean on plenty of other foundations in town to help finance the translational medical research plan.

There’s a big precedent for having private philanthropies support medical research in Kansas City.

The Stowers Medical Institute, which finances $70 million on average of basic research annually, is financed through the gifts of Jim and Virginia Stowers.

So what’s holding civic leaders back from making this push?

One is pretty simple: They’d rather get the public funds from taxpayers, freeing up their money for other uses.

Another objection is that Kansas City supposedly couldn’t put together a single foundation that would have enough firepower to finance a $40-million-a-year effort. Essentially, that would require a $1 billion foundation, giving away 4 percent of its assets each year.

But who says it has to be a single foundation? Why not pool resources?

The civic leaders contend that translational medical research is not the top priority for the existing foundations, the ones I think could work in concert.


One of the Kauffman Foundation’s biggest missions is supporting entrepreneurs. What’s more entrepreneurial than hiring medical researchers to try to make big discoveries in a hit-and-miss field?

While the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation doesn’t directly control all of the funds it holds, the foundation’s leaders do have a responsibility to guide many donors to support endeavors that are important to Kansas City’s future.

And the Hall Family Foundation already has stepped forward, along with Donald Hall, to promise a gift of $75 million for a building that could be built for the translational medical research effort. The Hall foundation obviously already has a great interest in this field.

If translational medical research is that important to this region, the foundations that already exist could put more effort into funding it rather than relying so much on taxpayers.

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