2012 Voter guide

The case against the UT medical school: Central Health's Proposition 1

The case against the UT medical school: Central Health's Proposition 1

Editor's note: CultureMap Austin is proud to partner with Leadership Austin — the region's premier provider of civic and community leadership development — in this series of editorial columns meant to inform Austinites about the upcoming City of Austin proposition elections to be held Nov. 6.

This is the second of two articles spelling out arguments for and against the City of Austin's Proposition 1 election on funding the University of Texas Medical School. This article opposes the Central Health proposition; the first article, advocates for Proposition 1.

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The all volunteer Taxpayers Union is the David up against a Goliath composed of powerful politicians, lawyers, corporations and their PAC bursting with special interest money. If Proposition 1, Central Health's request for funding a medical school is such a good plan, why does it require a quarter million dollar propaganda campaign? 

Advertising for Prop. 1 has been long on feel-good promises and short on specifics. What Prop 1 organizers are not telling you is that the University of Texas, with its billions of dollars in idle funds, is taking the precedent-shattering step of demanding local homeowners pre-subsidize the operation of the medical school.

With that, I’d like to clarify some misconceptions about Prop 1 in hopes we can clear the smokescreen.

Misconception No. 1: Proposition 1 buys a medical school and hospital — it does neither. Read the proposition carefully. 

Misconception No. 2: We get $1.46 for every dollar of tax — but matching funds are not a dependable source of revenue. They’re contingent on performance, can’t be used for new construction, depend on an insolvent federal government and most importantly, last for less than four years, unlike the permanent tax.

Misconception No. 3: Prop 1 will bring 15,000 new jobs and $2 billion per year in economic activity — based on an estimate of 200 student doctors, this equates to 75 employees and $10 million per year for every student! Does that sound realistic? These numbers are guesses performed by "economists" hired by proponents. An Aug. 24, 2012 Statesman article included numerous skeptical peer reviews of these claims. They’re further disputed by the findings of a 2012 Economic Assessment of A&M’s Temple medical school by Dr. Ray Perryman.

Also worth noting: The tax begins immediately, but the school will likely not be complete for years. What becomes of the hundreds of millions of local tax dollars extracted from homeowners in the interim? If the tax truly funds medical school operation, shouldn’t it start when the school opens?

Misconception No. 4: Proposition 1 resolves future doctor shortages — proponents shortage numbers are for a six-county area, five of which contribute no property taxes to Central Health and have far greater shortages. Why should Travis County homeowners foot the bill for counties who contribute nothing? Travis is the top ranked metropolitan county in Texas for general practitioner access. Our Texas Department of State Health Services doctor to patient ratio rank of 17th in Texas, is superior to San Antonio at 34th, which has a large medical school, a teaching hospital and healthcare district tax three times ours. 

In 2004, we were promised that if Central Health was authorized, they’d increase healthcare access and eliminate the uninsured in emergency rooms. We hear the same empty promises again. There will never be enough money; look to San Antonio, where many homeowners pay over $100 a month to the healthcare district, for a glimpse of your future. 

We have the highest property taxes and bond repayment ($10 billion equaling $10,000 per citizen), of any metropolitan county in Texas.

According to the Statesman, our property taxes have increased 38 percent in the past decade. Since then, we’ve seen the city, county, Central Health and AISD all raise their rates.

Another $385 million in borrowing accompanies Prop 1 on the ballot: A huge AISD tax increase and more bonds (light rail, City of Austin, Austin ISD) are coming in 2013. Where will the projected $4.1 billion for this project come from? More bond debt on homeowners? Do the math, they are billions short.

These increases hit the elderly on fixed income and poor working families hardest. A report by Community Action Network shows 40 percent of Austinites are struggling financially. The fact that Sen. Kirk Watson and Gov. Perry are supporting this is just another example of how vultures in both parties pick at the carcasses of taxpayers who are tapped out and unable to maintain their family budgets as it stands now. 

We don’t necessarily oppose a justified medical school or hospital. We oppose a million dollar a week, bureaucratic tax grab that doesn’t do what’s advertised, confuses voters with limited one-sided misinformation and demands homeowners support an arcane, atypical funding scheme.

Central Health Tax Ratification Election

PROP. 1: Approving the ad valorem tax rate of $0.129 per $100 valuation in Central Health, also known as the Travis County Healthcare District, for the 2013 tax year, a rate that exceeds the district’s rollback tax rate. The proposed ad valorem tax rate exceeds the ad valorem tax rate most recently adopted by the district by $0.05 per $100 valuation; funds will be used for improved healthcare in Travis County, including support for a new medical school consistent with the mission of Central Health, a site for a new teaching hospital, trauma services, specialty medicine such as cancer care, community-wide health clinics, training for physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals, primary care, behavioral and mental healthcare, prevention and wellness programs, and/or to obtain federal matching funds for healthcare services.

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Roger Falk is an invited guest columnist of Leadership Austin. The opinions of Leadership Austin guests, alumni and faculty members are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.

Austin Photo: News_roger falk_healthcare_Oct 2012_sign
Courtesy of Taxpayers Union