Say Yes to Prop 1

Imagine someone walked up to you 30 years ago, offered you Apple stock at its then-price and convinced you how valuable it would become. There would be just one catch: you’d have to actually make your investment.

Would you pass on this sure-fire prosperity just because of someone’s philosophical problem with investments, no matter how lucrative?

On Nov. 6, Travis County voters will be offered an opportunity to invest in Austin’s health and future.

Proposition 1 will increase health care options and accessibility in Travis County. It will provide resources for services that not only support a medical school, but also cover our community’s health care needs.

The list of benefits includes cancer care and other specialty services, trauma care, community-wide clinics, behavioral and mental health care, and prevention and wellness programs. The proposition also will help the community obtain federal matching funds and train new doctors, nurses and other providers.

Unfortunately, critics of Prop 1 won’t look at these huge returns. Anti-tax dogma blocks consideration of what Travis County taxpayers and families would actually receive for this investment. Even after voters approve Prop 1, Travis County’s health care district would have the lowest tax rate among districts in Texas’ six biggest urban counties. And the overall health care tax burden on Travis County residents would still be lower than that for residents in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

The community is being “taxed too much” by an inadequate health care system. Uncompensated care costs already roll down from emergency rooms (and other expensive facilities) onto families and homeowners’ tax bills. Families also pile up huge travel, lodging and food costs — none covered by insurance — when parents or children have to travel elsewhere to get treatment their doctor recommends.

No successful business would make such a short-sighted mistake. The smarter move would be to look at what Prop 1 will actually do and see whether its benefits are worth its costs.

This investment will provide new options to Austin families who travel to Dallas, Houston or other states seeking treatment for major illnesses. It will create a pipeline of medical professionals— primary, secondary, and graduate-level students who will be ready to work in our clinics, hospitals and neighborhoods.

It will save taxpayers money by helping Travis County residents with advanced complications from preventable illnesses find affordable preventive care and stay out of emergency rooms.

It will provide services for those with mental and behavioral health illnesses — helping them avoid county jails, which are expensive for them and for us.

This investment, in short, will provide good, timely care to people and families across Travis County.

In addition to all of these things, Prop 1 will cover about 10 percent of the cost of a medical school at UT-Austin. The remaining 90 percent would come from UT, the Seton Family of Hospitals and other partners.

That is a 9-to-1 return on our local community investment — 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.

Voters deserve better than politically motivated half-truths that hide the real costs of health care challenges and ignore this groundbreaking effort to overcome them. Proposition 1, transparently and accountably, puts a light on these hidden costs and offers a way to cover them.

There’s no way to go back 30 years to buy Apple stock. But there’s no reason to fear a great investment when it comes along today — particularly when it will mean so much for the region’s economy and the health of Travis County families.

Central Health’s Proposition 1 is a once-in–a-lifetime opportunity. Grab it by voting for it on Nov. 6.

Rice is development director for the Texas Cultural Trust, a former Senate staffer, and chair of the Texas Exes Public Affairs Committee. Farmer is president of Heritage Title Co. and is chairman of The Greater Austin Economic Development Corp. Taylor, a partner with Jackson Walker LLP, is a real estate attorney and civic volunteer with significant involvement in a number of health-care-related charities. Jenkins, who owns ABC Home and Commercial Services, is a local business leader and community volunteer.

This article first appeared in the Austin-American Statesman.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Alex E. Proimos.


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