Legal battle over passage of Proposition 1 continues

Joshua Fechter

A lawsuit could prevent voting on a ballot initiative that seeks to help fund operations at a proposed UT teaching hospital if a federal court sides against Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district.

A complaint filed Monday by Stephen Casey, an attorney representing Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee formed to oppose Proposition 1, and other plaintiffs, asks the Austin division of the U.S. District Court to prevent further voting on Proposition 1 until the court decides if the language of Proposition 1 violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act by misleading voters and expressing advocacy for the proposition.

Proposition 1 would increase property taxes collected by Central Health from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value and would help fund operations at the teaching hospital.

As it appears on the ballot, the proposition says Central Health will use increased revenue to fund “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.”

The complaint states Central Health is not authorized to use funds to support a new medical school, train physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals and provide trauma services to anyone other than low-income patients.

James Cousar, an attorney representing Central Health, said Central Health does have the authority to execute each of those items.

“[The plaintiffs] are wrong about every single one of those,” Cousar said.

Under a contract with Central Health, Seton Family of Hospitals operates the University Medical Center at Brackenridge. The latter houses a trauma center and a medical education program offered by Seton and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

In May, the UT System Board of Regents pledged $25 million per year and $5 million per year for eight years to buy equipment to fund the proposed medical school. In August, the Austin American-Statesman reported that the school will cost an estimated $4.1 billion over 12 years.

As of Tuesday, no hearing has been scheduled. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel has been assigned to the lawsuit.

Printed on October 24, 2012 as: "Battle for Prop. 1 passage continues"