Yael T. Abouhalkah

October 30, 2013

UMKC’s Morton misses the mark on research tax

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton points out that the KC community took big steps to improve itself 80 years ago during the Great Depression. But notice: The private sector led the way on two of those initiatives.
Leo Morton is one of this region’s go-go community leaders. The chancellor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City is involved in plenty of positive efforts in town, including the one to create a Downtown Campus for the Arts


However, Morton also is a leader of a less-meritorious plan: the request for a half-cent sales tax for translational medical research. It would create an $800 million lug on the public over the next 20 years.

The tax is on Tuesday’s ballot, only in Jackson County.

Morton and UMKC have $160 million worth of reasons to be for the tax increase: The university would benefit from 20 percent of the research funds.


an opponent of the tax

, I find myself on the other side of this issue from Morton and many other civic leaders who support it.

I don’t think the public should be financing this research, as valuable as it might be, especially from one county and especially with sales tax revenues — which are normally and best used for public assets such as parks, roads and public safety.

In an

Oped for The Star last Sunday

, Morton explained his reasons for supporting the tax.

One is of them is worth more exploration.

Morton noted that 80 years ago, “this community chose to be bold.”

“In 1933, we created a university, which eventually became UMKC. We opened an art museum, today known as the world-class Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. And we created the classical music ensemble that eventually evolved into today’s Kansas City Symphony.”

Morton went on to say the public should be bold once again, take a chance and use $800 million to help finance translational medical research.

However, here’s what I found interesting about Morton’s list of successes from 1933:

UMKC was and still is supported by the public sector.

But the two others — the museum and symphony — were and still are private ventures.

If you look at their histories, both the

museum and symphony

had some gutsy leaders who took financial chances to make their dreams come true.

Notably, that’s exactly what I and many other opponents are asking leaders of translational research to do: Don’t ask taxpayers — the public — to fund your worthy cause.

Get the private sector together, through foundations and philanthropists especially, to finance much of the research in Kansas City. That’s how Children’s Mercy and St. Luke’s hospitals — two other institutions that would benefit from the half-cent sales tax — have financed their ambitious, multi-hundred-million-dollar building campaigns in recent years.

As Morton might have pointed out, the private sector stepped forward to support two terrific causes in 1933.

Why can’t it be done in 2013 for translational medical research in this community?

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