Voters will decide on sales tax for health institute

County Executive Mike Sanders answered questions from reporters following the legislature’s vote to put a health institute tax on the ballot.

By Joe Lambe

A half cent sales tax to create a medical institute on Hospital Hill will go to voters on Nov. 5.

The Jackson County Legislature today voted 7-2 to put the tax to voters.

The 20-year tax would raise $40 million a year for a new institute that supporters say would be a center for health care, research and a hub for medical jobs.

It also would attract world-class researchers and lead to development of drugs and other treatments, they say.

The majority of the legislature said the voters should decide the matter.

Jackson County Legislator Bob Spence voted against it, saying the county had its hands full fighting criminals, maintaining parks and everything else.

The higher sales tax would also limit the ability of the county and cities to raise sales taxes for other needs, he said.“I don’t think this is a business the county should be involved in.”

Legislator Greg Grounds also voted against it, saying election costs would be much less in March if the matter were on the ballot with other issues, allowing the county to share election costs with cities.

The November election is to be paid for when the county starts collecting the tax, but Grounds noted that if voters reject the tax, the county will have to pay for the election.

The Jackson County Institute for Translational Medicine would be a partnership between Children’s Mercy Hospital, Saint Luke’s Hospital, UMKC, and The Kansas City Life Sciences Institute.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said that the project has great potential to create good jobs and life-saving cures, while making the county a national health care leader.

As for sales taxes being regressive, he noted that 40 percent of sales taxes in the county come from people who live outside it.

The measure passed today after supporters made changes to give Jackson County more input.

A Jackson County legislator will sit on its main governing board and those appointed to most boards overseeing the money must be Jackson County residents.

As before, 20 percent of net profits from development of drugs or treatments goes to Jackson County. But added language specified that the legislature will decide how that money is spent.

Supporters say they have $1 million dollars in private money to try to persuade voters to pass the tax, and Sanders said there will be much public discussion before the election.

Legislator Theresa Garza Ruiz said, “It’s ultimately in the voters’ hands; it’s best to let the voters decide.”

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