Jackson County voters are being asked to approve a half-cent sales tax to pay for medical research at two Kansas City hospitals and the University of Missouri-Kansas City's health professional schools.
Approval of Tuesday's ballot measure would raise $800 million over the tax's 20-year duration to fund research in translational medicine, which uses basic research to create new treatments and cures.
Supporters say the funding could help establish Kansas City as a national medical research hub and would change lives and improve health for all by paying for research that could lead to cures.
"This tax is really an investment into the future," said Dr. Sarah Soden who leads the Genome Program at Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics.
She has seen first-hand how research can boost a community.
"With just a couple of years in Children's Mercy investing in the genome center, we've brought in over $1.5 million in private donation much of that from other states, Texas, California. We have patients traveling here from overseas. I recently saw a patient from Europe, Canada. All those people are flying into Kansas City, staying in hotels, eating out," Soden said.
Opponents say Jackson County citizens can't afford a tax they may never directly benefit from.
Jim Fitzgerald has spent thousands of his own money fighting against it.
He is all for medical research, but he just feels tax dollars are better spent on critical services like public safety and needed infrastructure.
"It is not just, 'do you like medical research.' It is, 'are you willing to pay $40 million a year.' Should the tax payers have to pay for this extravagant and risky program," Fitzgerald said.
Risky, because medical research comes with no guarantees.
"The cures, and advances are very hard to come by, and it is over a very long term. So the payback, people could be asking for years, when do we start seeing something back from this? And it could be very little," Fitzgerald said.
An increase would make parts of Kansas City among the highest taxed areas in the nation.
Opponents, such as the League of Women Voters and Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, call the sales tax regressive and say it puts the burden to fund a national research program on the backs of low- and middle-class residents who can least afford it.
If passed, the campaign will refund the $850,000 it costs taxpayers to hold a special election.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.