UT Regent Hicks donates $1,000 to PAC supporting Prop 1

Alexa Ura

UT System regent R. Steven Hicks donated $1,000 to Keep Austin Healthy, a political action committee supporting the establishment of a proposed UT-Austin medical school.

The Keep Austin Healthy PAC supports Proposition 1, an initiative on Tuesday’s ballot that would increase the county property tax rate from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value to help fund the proposed UT medical school. The Harden Healthcare Texas PAC, a committee for senior health care services provider Harden Healthcare, which Hicks’ private investment firm Capstar Partners, LLC oversees, also donated $5,000 to Keep Austin Healthy. Hicks is the top contributor to the Harden Healthcare Texas PAC, contributing $25,000 in 2009.

Filings with the Texas Ethics Commission show Hicks and Harden Healthcare Texas PAC donated to the Keep Austin Healthy PAC in August.

“My involvement in the election is as an individual member of the community supporting the proposition,” Hicks wrote in an email to The Daily Texan. “I see no conflict of interest. Regents are also members of their communities and all are deeply involved in them.”

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hicks to a six-year term as a UT regent in February 2011. He currently serves as vice chairman of the board. The System does not have a policy against political contributions, but a rule on political activities states staff are only allowed to participate in political activities that do not involve the UT System in partisan politics.

The proposed tax increase is expected to raise an estimated $54 million annually to be used to fund various health services, including $35 million annually toward the proposed UT medical school.

In May, the UT regents voted unanimously in favor of committing $25 million annually to operate the medical school and an additional $5 million per year for eight years to cover laboratory equipment. The Seton Family of Hospitals pledged $250 million in April to fund a teaching hospital to accompany the medical school.

Hicks said a UT-Austin medical school would benefit the community but not provide financial benefits to Harden Healthcare.

Harden Healthcare CEO Lew Little is the chair-elect of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, which also supports the proposition.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union, which opposes Proposition 1, formed its own political action committee.

Don Zimmerman, Travis County Taxpayers Union founder and treasurer, said Hicks’ contribution underscored what an individual in a position of power can do.

“[Hicks] is part of a very large group of very powerful corporate insiders and wealthy individuals who are behind Prop 1, and he is in very good company,” Zimmerman said. “When people with these positions of power exert their power through government, it can be kind of frightening.”

Dr. Guadalupe Zamora, treasurer of the Keep Austin Healthy PAC, said he was unaware Hicks had donated to the committee.

“I can tell you the regents believe in the dream of a medical school, and that is why he contributed,” Zamora said. “The idea behind [the campaign] is not so much the school, but expanding services.”

The Keep Austin Healthy PAC had raised $619,343.55 as of Oct. 29, and the Travis County Taxpayers Union PAC had raised $19,640.28, according to Texas Ethics Commission filings.

Printed on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 as: Regent joins PAC in support of Prop 1