Texas Exes launches campaign in support of Proposition 1

Alexa Ura

The Texas Exes joined the ranks of supporters of a local initiative that would increase property taxes in Travis County to help fund a new UT medical school and teaching hospital.

The UT alumni association officially launched the UT M.D. campaign Wednesday in support of Proposition 1, an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot. The proposition calls for a five-cent property tax increase to be allocated to Central Health, Travis County’s health care taxing authority.

The proposition would increase the county property tax rate by 63 percent from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The increase is expected to raise an estimated $54 million to be used to fund various health services, including $35 million a year toward the proposed UT medical school and teaching hospital.

Texas Exes president John Beckworth said the association’s board of directors voted to support a UT medical school earlier this year after the UT System Board of Regents and the Seton Healthcare Family of Hospitals committed to providing funding for the school in May.

“There are compelling reasons to support the medical school, including the research and teaching opportunities that could come from it,” Beckworth said. “The medical school would also provide health care services needed in the community and a positive economic impact for the region and the state.”

The UT regents voted unanimously in favor of committing $25 million annually to operate the medical school and $5 million per year for eight years to cover laboratory equipment at their May meeting. Seton pledged $250 million to fund a teaching hospital to accompany the medical school. The UT system already boasts six health institutions in Dallas, Galveston, Houston, San Antonio and Tyler.

The Texas Exes is comprised of more than 99,000 members, and 80,000 alumni reside in Travis County.

Dennis McWilliams, UT alumnus and member of the association’s board of directors, said a UT medical school would not only benefit medical students but also impact students majoring in related fields like pharmacology and medical engineering.

McWilliams, who is also CEO of medical device company Apollo Endosurgery, said he attended graduate school at Stanford University because UT’s lack of a medical school did not allow him to adapt his degree to his chosen field.

“It’s easier to tailor a degree in the medical engineering field, for example, if you have access to a medical school,” he said.

Texas Exes spokesperson Tim Taliaferro said the association hopes to educate alumni about the transformative impact a UT medical school could have on the community.

The Texas Exes operates from the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on campus but is not directly affiliated with UT. Taliaferro said the campaign is a Texas Exes initiative rather than one from the University.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Texas, said the Texas Exes’ support for the proposition demonstrates the impact a medical school could have on the University and the community. Watson said it is the first time the Texas Exes have supported a local proposition.

Watson has played an integral part in the push to establish a medical school and modern teaching hospital in Austin, leading the initiative through his “10 Goals in 10 Years” vision.

“The Texas Exes have a unique love for their university and a strong sense of how transformative a medical school could be,” he said. “Proposition 1 will cement a new, vital partnership to help keep Austin and Central Texas healthy, and the Texas Exes’ historic support shows how important that is. The medical school needs this funding source, just as Travis County families and individuals need these services.”

Other Proposition 1 supporters include the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Some community members, such as the Travis County Taxpayers Union, oppose the proposition because it will increase property taxes.

Earlier this month the Austin City Council approved a budget including a separate property tax increase, which became effective Oct. 1. The tax hike increased the tax rate 2.18 cents for every $100 of assessed property.

Printed on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 as: Alumni back new medical facilities