The Austin Chronicle

Wins for Med School and Health Care

By Mike Kanin, November 9, 2012, News

By the time Travis County elections officials stopped counting votes on Tuesday night, Central Health's Proposition 1 – a 63% property tax hike (five cents per $100 valuation) that will pay for a host of programs associated with a new University of Texas medical school – was up by 32,000 votes. Let's run that again: Travis County taxpayers offered a ringing endorsement of a major tax increase that will primarily fund community health programs targeted at the less fortunate. Tiny blue dot indeed.

Early in the evening, state Sen. Kirk Wat­son, who staked his own reputation on the campaign, told In Fact Daily that the E-Day numbers were encouraging. "I feel very good about the turnout that we had today," Watson said, "and the work that we did to turn out that vote."

The success of Prop. 1 begins a collaboration with a now-confirmed incoming UT-Aus­tin med school. As we reported previously ("The Med School Solution," Sept. 14), the health care delivery partnership between the Seton family of hospitals and Central Health that is funded (and for all intents, established) by Prop. 1's approval will create more than a fistful of community care programs that will be fueled by the residents and doctors drawn to Austin by the medical school. Or at least, that's the plan.

Voters specifically granted Central Health the ability to create 26 new community health programs, with a tax increase that will be roughly $100 a year in additional property tax for the owner of a home valued at $200,000. Central Health will then attempt to demonstrate to Medicaid officials in Washington that these programs will transform local health care in fulfillment of Medicaid program goals. In exchange, the feds will provide $1.46 in grants for every $1 that Central Health puts toward the effort. So one way to see that math is as a $246 benefit to the community for that extra $100 on your property tax bill.

There were, of course, detractors. Canyon Creek Tea Partier Don Zimmerman organized a late-breaking campaign (Travis Coun­ty Taxpayers Union) against the proposition and filed a Voting Rights Act suit against the ballot language. Seton competitor St. David's jumped on board that bandwagon two weeks ago (see, "Health Care Elephants Battle Over Prop 1," Nov. 2). Zimmerman told In Fact Daily late Tuesday night that he was disappointed in the outcome of the vote, but not surprised. He pointed to his late start and suggested that the campaign to stop Prop. 1 began too late.

On Wednesday morning, KUT reported that Zimmerman wasn't ready to drop the lawsuit and would continue to pursue legal options against Prop 1. But barring some surprise, this looks like a very big win for Central Health, Seton, the University of Texas, and, of course, Watson – who threw his considerable political heft and organizing might behind the campaign.

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