The 127-year wait for a medical school may be over. But only if Travis County voters approve Proposition 1.
A political compromise in 1881 established The University of Texas in Austin, the sleepy capital city, and a medical branch in Galveston, then the state’s economic powerhouse.
Times have changed, and now the dynamic, global city of Austin and its flagship university are looking to advance higher education excellence through a proposed medical school and teaching hospital at UT-Austin.
UT-Austin alumni are weighing in. The Texas Exes, a 99,000-member organization, rarely wades into political campaigns. In its history, the Association has endorsed only eight ballot initiatives. This campaign is the first the Association has endorsed that is not statewide.
In July, the Texas Exes board of directors voted unanimously to endorse the measure, launching a campaign called UT M.D. aimed at educating the public about Proposition 1 in Travis County, a bond initiative designed to raise revenue to establish a medical school at UT-Austin.
The increase, from 7 to 12 cents per $100 in property taxes, is close to half of what most Texas hospital districts incur, former Austin city councilwoman Beverly Dunkerly noted at a community meeting in Oak Hill last month.
This revenue represents 10 percent of the cost of establishing a long-needed medical school. “That is a 9-to-1 return on our local community investment,” a group of prominent supporters wrote in the Austin American Statesman. “[It is] a phenomenal payoff that also helps keep us healthy. It doesn’t even count the 15,000 permanent new jobs (more than half of them not requiring a college degree) and $2 billion in annual economic activity that Austin’s transformed health care system will spur.”
The UT System board of regents has allocated $30 million for eight years to finance the medical school, and $25 million per year after that. Seton Healthcare will fund $250 million to construct a new teaching hospital, replacing the current University Medical Center Brackenridge.
Proposition 1 will fund up to $50 million dollars annually to support the medical school, as well as the teaching hospital and community clinics to support physician training and residency. For five years, every dollar raised locally will be matched by $1.46 federal dollars.
“The Texas Exes have a unique love for their university and a strong sense of how transformative a medical school could be,” state senator and proponent Kirk Watson told the Daily Texan on Wednesday. “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.”
Alongside the Texas Exes, groups from across central Texas have endorsed the initiative, including the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Austin Travis County EMS Association, Lance Armstrong Foundation, Downtown Austin Alliance, and Real Estate Council of Austin. More than 400 Austin-area physicians have voiced their support as well.
Community support for Proposition 1 comes from a broad spectrum of demographic and economic interests. At a news conference held by Keep Austin Healthy Thursday morning, a number of community leaders, led by former state legislator Ann Kitchen, focused on the medical school’s potential impact on women’s health.
“This proposition has so much support in this community,” said Juanita Stevens of BiG AUSTIN, a group that supports local small business owners. Stevens stressed the importance of increased access to care from the proposed teaching hospital and clinics.
The Texas Exes view this as a transformative opportunity for UT-Austin.
“Of the nation’s top 15 public universities, UT-Austin is one of just four without a medical school,” says Texas president John Beckworth, who lives in Houston. “Building a medical school could give our alma mater one of the final assets needed to catch and even pull ahead of our competitor schools.”