Central Health Approves Tax Referendum to Fund UT Med School

Tonight Texas got one step closer to a new medical school.

The board of Central Health, Travis County’s health care district, unanimously voted to add a tax referendum—which would up taxes by $0.05 per $100 of assessed property value—to the county’s November ballot. The extra funds would go toward community care associated with the proposed UT-Austin medical school.

At voting time, Central Health board chair Rosie Mendoza, along with seven other board members, expressed  enthusiasm for the referendum to a mixed-bag crowd of both dissenters and supporters.

“The time is now,” Mendoza said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be given this opportunity again.”

Austin organizations—including the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and the Downtown Austin Alliance—submitted briefs in favor of the tax increase. The Texas Exes joined the chorus of support as well. The association’s  board of directors unanimously voted to back the referendum in early July.

“We can use The University of Texas’ great research capabilities to transform health care and biotech and health sciences right here,” said Ben De Leon, BA ’01, BS ’01, JD ’04, Life Member, speaking for the Texas Exes. “And in turn we can transform the world.”

Others at the meeting were less sure. One citizen asked the board to “have a heart” and that the Austin community can’t continue “paying for your growth with our hard work.” Another was hesitant to see more funds go to UT, which she called racially and culturally insensitive.

Citing Austin’s burgeoning population and lack of physicians, the board approved the referendum’s addition to the ballot. If passed, the referendum woud help close the gap in funding needed to build and operate a UT-Austin medical school—estimated to bring 15,000 permanent jobs and $2 billion in revenue to Central Texas.

At a press conference before the meeting, med school advocate and “10 Goals in 10 Years” mastermind state Sen. Kirk Watson urged the board members to do just that.

“We need more doctors in Texas. It’s time to teach, train, and keep more of them here,” Watson said. “The election is just three months away, and people are ready.”

Editor’s Note: Read the September|October issue of The Alcalde for a deeper look at the potential medical school, and be on the lookout for communications from the Texas Exes in the coming weeks.

President Bill Powers, Executive Vice President and Provost Steven Leslie, and Sen. Kirk Watson tour University Medical Center Brackenridge. Photo by Matt Valentine.


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