You don’t have to support this tax


It’s difficult not to support raising money for research into curing our most horrible diseases.

After all, that’s like saying kittens are ugly or all those videos of laughing babies are time-suckers. I might as well start yelling, “Get off my lawn!” right now.

But sorry, folks, I cannot support the proposed half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 5 ballot in Jackson County. I’m not an anti-tax person. I rarely meet a tax I can’t get behind.

Except this one. It’s unfair, it’s regressive and it’s not the right tax.

The proposed 20-year sales tax would raise $800 million for translational medical research. “Translational” is defined as creating new drugs and devices to combat disease based on research. The Hall Family Foundation has promised $75 million toward the building of a new research facility at Children’s Mercy Hospital if the tax passes.

The Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures promises the tax money will:

  • Attract top research talent to the Kansas City area.
  • Create the Institute for Translational Medicine on Hospital Hill, a collaboration between Children’s Mercy, St. Luke’s Hospital System, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.
  • Help the local economy by luring companies here and generating “hundreds of millions of dollars for our community.”

Sounds like a plan, right? Who doesn’t want to cure cancer?

I do, of course. I’m a huge fan of Children’s Mercy – the hubs and I write a check every month, paying off our kids’ latest ER visit. Love St. Luke’s, too. That’s where all my docs are. And both Matt and I are proud graduates of UMKC.

But I can’t support this tax because it’s unfair. It’s a tax ONLY for Jackson County – not the rest of the state or even the area. To be sure, Johnson County, Kan., has a similar tax, but it’s one-eighth of a cent. And the folks who dreamed up this current tax proposal – the elite Civic Council in Kansas City – are, I believe, out of touch with the real economic hardship a half-cent tax could wreak on the regular folk in Jackson County.

Let me throw these numbers at you (they’re from; the U.S. Census website is offline because of the government shutdown):

  • 66208 – that’s the ZIP code in Johnson County where many Civic Council members live. While they might work in Jackson County, you can be certain they’re not buying their groceries or everyday living items in Jackson County.
  • $233,599 – that’s the 2011 median household income in Mission Hills, Kan., in the 66208 ZIP code, home to the Halls of the Hall Family Foundation and to several Civic Council members. The median per capita income there is $101,863.
  • $45,886 – that’s the 2009 median household income in Jackson County.
  • $41,487 – that’s the 2009 median household income in Independence.

Consider those numbers and decide for yourself who is hit harder by an increase in the sales tax – the person clearing $100,000 annually, or someone making less than half that?

A sales tax is regressive – it hurts those with lower incomes far worse than those at the upper end. Unlike property taxes, which rise with a property’s worth, sales taxes are blind – they are tacked onto purchases regardless of who’s purchasing.

And should a government that’s already spread too thin trying to pay for roads, infrastructure, parks and facilities even get into the research game? Isn’t that best left to the private sector? Who will own the patents on the research that’s generated here? Who gets that income?

I’m sorry, Civic Council. I applaud your intent, but there’s got to be a better way.

My friend and former Kansas City Star colleague Jim Fitzpatrick of Kansas City has some ideas. He’s started the Committee to Stop a Bad Cure (which I have joined – full disclosure.) At, you can read about his research on this tax proposal and his alternative idea:

The Hall Family Foundation, instead of challenging taxpayers to fund this research, should issue that challenge to corporations, foundations and the wealthy (hello, Civic Council members…) to raise the money the tax would raise. With private money raised, the county could seek a much smaller sales-tax increase of one-eighth cent for 15 years.

And that would leave some wiggle room for light-rail proponents to ask voters in the future to approve a sales tax that would pay for much-needed upgrades to our public transportation – which would help everyone from low-income fast-food workers to corporate executives to those who make their money from tourism.

It’s a win-win.