January 13, 2013

Extra Health Levy In Kansas City A(nother) Tax Too Far

Last Tuesday, I was quoted in the Kansas City Star regarding whether Kansas City should renew a temporary health levy that voters initially approved in 2005. The levy is a property tax meant to help pay for indigent care in the city and generates about $15 million in revenue each year — most of which goes to Truman Medical Center. As one of the tax’s main beneficiaries, it is not surprising that Truman has already started the campaign to extend the tax beyond its 2014 expiration, working behind the scenes with the city council to grease the skids of the tax’s extension.

How controversial is the tax? By Kansas City standards, more controversial than most. Early last year, The Star’s Yael Abouhalkah asked readers in an editorial, “How tough is it to kill a tax in Kansas City?” His case in point: the “temporary” health levy now up for renewal. Kansas City is one of the highest-taxed cities in the country. If the extra health levy is allowed to expire, it would be a small but important step for the city to get back along the path of tax sanity. Whether city officials will support its expiration is another matter.

But for its part, The Star’s editorial board is not convinced the tax should be renewed, and I have to agree. Many Kansas City families’ budgets will already be tighter in 2013 than they were last year, especially with the uptick in the payroll tax, which Washington’s “fiscal cliff” deal did not address. Who is looking out for them? And is the renewal of this tax the best use of tax money for a city that is already heavily taxed? To their immense credit, Kansas City’s citizens have made the city one of the most philanthropic. It would be better to rely on the demonstrated generosity of individual Kansas Citians to support Truman’s programs rather than to force Kansas City’s families into subsidizing Truman’s programs through taxation, particularly during these difficult economic times.

We can all agree that fundamental health care reform must come to the region and to the country, but this tax and the federal Affordable Care Act do not get us there. Missourians need free market-based health care solutions that deliver power to the patient, not the government, and we need to actually get treatment costs down for everyone through the power of competition. The extra health levy does not fix our health care problem. It just papers it over.

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