St. David’s rejects Prop 1

Joshua Fechter

The St. David’s HealthCare network, a Central Texas hospital system with branches in Travis County, will not support a ballot initiative that would help fund a proposed UT teaching hospital and medical school.

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.

C. David Huffstutler, St. David’s president and CEO, said he believes the increase would fund the proposed school at the expense of providing health care services to underinsured and uninsured patients in Travis County, which is the purpose of Central Health.

“We do support the medical school,” Huffstutler said. “We just don’t support this mechanism for funding the school.”

He said St. David’s would support funding the proposed medical school with private and corporate funds and appropriations from the Texas Legislature.

In May, the UT System Board of Regents pledged $30 million per year for eight years and $25 million per year after the first eight years for the medical school. The Seton Family of Hospitals, a Catholic hospital network that is St. David’s main competitor, pledged $250 million toward the teaching hospital. In August, the Austin American-Statesman reported that the school will cost an estimated $4.1 billion over 12 years.

In a statement released Wednesday, Huffstutler said St. David’s would support Proposition 1 if the revenue generated by the increase would directly fund indigent care instead of being used to fund the teaching hospital and school.

Carlos Femat, community relations manager at Central Health, said $35 million of revenue raised from the tax increase would be used to purchase medical services from faculty, residents and students at the proposed medical school. He said those services would be performed at the proposed teaching hospital as well at clinics contracted with Central Health.

Femat said Central Health estimates the proposed tax increase would generate approximately $54 million in annual revenue.

Steven Leslie, UT executive vice president and provost, said in a memo to faculty and staff earlier this month that without the tax increase, UT would not be able to establish a medical school in Austin.

No location or timeline for construction of the medical school and teaching hospital has been set.

David Butts, a local political consultant who has worked with Keep Austin Healthy, a political action committee formed to support Proposition 1, said he was surprised St. David’s would not support the proposed tax increase.

“The point of [the proposition] is to provide health care to uninsured people,” Butts said. “As a property owner, I’m happy to pay the extra amount in property taxes for that.”

Don Zimmerman, treasurer of the Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee formed to oppose Proposition 1, said St. David’s position echoes the entiment of his organization.

“I think St. David’s affirmed what we have been saying this whole time, which is Proposition 1 proponents have not been honest with taxpayers about how this money will be used,” Zimmerman said.

An attorney representing the Travis County Taxpayers Union filed a complaint Monday asking 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 advocating for the proposition.

Printed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 as: St. David's opposes Prop. 1 funding