Doctors support property tax increase to fund UT medical school

Joshua Fechter

More than 400 Austin-area doctors have signaled their support for a Nov. 6 ballot initiative that would increase property taxes in Travis County to help fund a new UT medical school and teaching hospital.

If approved, Proposition 1 would increase property taxes to Central Health, a political subdivision that administers health care services for underserved citizens in the Travis County area, by 5 cents, from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Central Health proposed the ballot initiative in August to fund the school, hospital and other health initiatives.

Although the UT System Board of Regents approved preliminary funding for the school, no timetable for completion has been released.

Dr. Guadalupe Zamora, treasurer for Keep Austin Healthy, a political action committee formed to support the increase, said the initiative would attract experienced residents and faculty and would introduce students to the medical profession.

“Being able to bring fantastic new minds into the field would be a feather in Austin’s cap,” Zamora said.

Dr. Christopher Garrison, program director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency at University Medical Center at Brackenridge, said the school would expand medical research and care for citizens.

Lynda Rife, spokesperson for Keep Austin Healthy, said the revenue from the proposed tax increase would fund primary care, specialty care and trauma care for patients at the new hospital. The Seton Healthcare Family of Hospitals has pledged to contribute $250 million to the hospital. In August, the Austin American-Statesman reported that the school would cost an estimated $4.1 billion over 12 years.

Rife said without the tax increase, the hospital would not be able to provide adequate medical care.

“It’s an investment,” Rife said. “If you vote yes, you will get something for your money.”

In addition, Rife said the federal government will provide $1.46 for every dollar raised through property taxes to go toward the hospital. She said the hospital and school would create about 15,000 jobs and raise an estimated $2 billion annually. In May, the UT System Board of Regents approved the allocation of $30 million in annual operating costs toward the school. The board also pledged $5 million a year for eight years for laboratory equipment.

Don Zimmerman, founder and treasurer of Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee that opposes the increase, said he does not see the need for a tax increase.
“We’re being taxed out of our homes,” Zimmerman said.

Last week, the Austin City Council approved a budget that includes a separate increase in property taxes and utility fees. Effective Oct. 1, the property tax rate collected by the city will increase from 48.11 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 50.29 cents.

Zimmerman said he does not see why the UT System needs to open and operate another medical school.

The UT System currently operates six health institutions in Dallas, Houston, Tyler, San Antonio and Galveston. The UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas also sponsors a residency program specializing in internal medicine at University Medical Center at Brackenridge. Some schools, including the UT Southwestern Medical Center and the UT Health Science Center at Houston, use a local hospital funded by property taxes collected by the cities they are in as their primary teaching hospital.

Printed on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 as: New medical school tax increase proposal prompts discussion