Huck and his runaway slave companion, Jim, are drifting on a raft down the Mississippi when they fall in with two con-men, “the King” and “the Duke.” These two know only too well how to fleece the hapless denizens of the little towns they are going past. To lure the gullible into the “peep-show” the scam-artists are promoting all that is necessary is to put up a poster advertising the show (“The Royal Nonesuch”), with a legend at the bottom reading; “Ladies and Children Not Admitted!” As “the Duke” says, admiring his handiwork; “If that line don’t fetch them, I don’t know Arkansaw!”
Well, we’re about to be scammed right here in River City, just like those fictitious burgs in Arkansas.
The latter day “Duke” and “Prince” are the usual suspects, Steve Rose, late of the JoCo Sun, now of the KC Star; and Peter Levi, late of the KC Chamber of Commerce, now of Polsinelli, Shughart (one of its predecessor firms, Polsinelli, White, Vardaman & Shalton was the only law firm in Missouri legal history to be indicted as a criminal enterprise, thanks to the antics of former Missouri House Speaker Bob Griffin, cementing its reputation as a nest of political fixers.)
Rose wrote an opinion piece in the Star last week arguing that the proposed Jackson County Medical Research Tax should be passed because it was very similar to the Kansas measure passed in 2008, the Johnson County Education Research Triangle Act. Rose insists that whether or not the Jackson County Tax was modeled after the Kansas measure “it should be.” After all, he reasons; “The tax in Johnson County has proved to be a powerhouse of research, education, and economic development. It is everything promised to tax payers and more.”
Rose cites among the projects that make the Triangle such an outstanding success, the Kansas State University “Innovation Campus” in Olathe, which is described as providing education, training, and research for animal health and food safety. (He also mentioned the KU Clinical Research Center in Fairway which focuses on cancer research, and the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park, which includes a new facility to house programs in business, engineering, science, and technology.)
All these no doubt reflect the expenditure of large sums of tax dollars, but what exactly has been accomplished? How do we know that the research done there is not duplicative of research performed elsewhere? What new discoveries have been made? What patents have been issued? What FDA approved drugs have been put into use? What significant studies have been completed and published? In short, how do we know, as Rose claims, that the JoCo Education Research Triangle is “everything promised to tax payers and more.”
The Olathe Innovation Campus was created in part by a state-funded entity called the Kansas Bioscience Authority. The Authority was created by the Kansas State Legislature in 2004 and was intended to “stimulate life science research” and “nurture companies promising good jobs and raPid growth in a high tech field.”
The first Chairman of the Bioscience Authority was Clay Blair, III, a local real estate developer, next to former RNC Committeeman Steve Cloud the foremost money man for the moderate wing of the Johnson County Republican Party.
Blair was forced to resign as Authority chair is 2010 after it was discovered that he had directed $46,000 in payments to his business, Clay Blair Services Co., from the Authority. In addition, it was reported in the press that another $104,000 in Authority money was paid to Blair’s family members and business associates.
In 2012, the president of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, Thomas Thornton, was also found to have misspent agency funds in an in-depth audit by the BKD, LLP accounting firm. In an audit report made public in a Wichita Eagle Beacon story from January 2012, the Authority was found to have spent $571,828 in payments in contravention of Authority policy. Thornton was also found to have destroyed documents on his computer which had been subpoenaed by the Johnson County District Attorney’s office when it began a criminal investigation of the Authority in 2011. The audit also concluded that KBA board member Angela Krebs may have improperly participated in deliberations and voted on a $100,000 payment by the Authority to a private bioscience authority she headed. The audit itself ended up costing the State $1,000,000.
None of these people were ever criminally prosecuted for the millions of dollars their actions cost the taxpayers. These are the people who created and administered at least one of the programs praised so fulsomely by Steve Rose in his editorial. Is this really who we want to trust taxpayer money to just because they are his political cronies?
Pete Levi, the ex-KC Chamber president and Polsinelli lawyer, went Rose one better in his piece that ran September 18th in the Star. Levi points with pride to the other corporate welfare boon-doggle favored by the local oligarchy, d.b.a. The Civic Council (sometimes known as the “Royal and Benevolent Order of CEO’s”). This, of course, is Science City, created by the Bi-State Cultural Authority, whose initial mouthpiece was none other than Steve Rose. Although the museum has fared a little better in recent years, it still represents a case study in how not to do a project, with tens of millions in cost overruns and actual revenues a fraction of those projected by its promoters.
Why Levi would hold this up as a shining example worthy of emulation is unclear. What is clear is that the only ones sure to benefit from such projects are those who own real estate in the areas being redeveloped. With the local sales taxes already among the highest in the country (Prairie Village’s rivals New York’s, largely thanks to a “Mayberry RFD” based redevelopment of the PV shopping center, a cutting-edge theme based on a TV show that first aired in 1960), it is an outrage that fat cats like the Civic Council would push such regressive measures. This is particularly true when 17% of the population of Jackson County lives at or below the poverty line.
If Mark Twain is to be believed, to get otherwise tight-fisted Missourians a century and a half ago to let loose of their money, all that was necessary was to say “Ladies and Children Not Admitted!” Nowadays the magic words are “Research in the Life Sciences” or “Economic Development” and their descendants will do the same.
Proceed with caution when Steve Rose backs a scheme.
Hold on to your wallet or you’ll end up paying for his next meal at the River Club, courtesy of his corporate Big Daddies (and for a lot more than that before its all over!)