In our inaugural issue of the Redback Report, we looked at the shortage of physicians in Texas, why the gap will likely grow without additional capacity at our medical schools, and what closing the gap could mean in economic benefits to the state and local economies. We did not, however, say anything about how to fund it, which was in hindsight probably a missed opportunity.
Hey, we’re pretty close to perfect … but remember that when the issue came out, nobody was paying us yet. We aren’t fools. We did, however, beat some local reporters to this story, thankyouverymuchnoreally.
At any rate, our opening line here is actually the first part of Question Number 5 from a post by our own Brian Kelsey, rabble-rouser extraordinaire, about a month ago on his own blog in an effort to get some answers out of the boosters of the new UT medical school on next week’s ballot. Now, Redback hasn’t taken an official stand on Prop 1 and, frankly, it’s not exactly our place to do that. But we have some genuine questions – as do plenty of people – and would love to hear back from some of you.
By Brian Kelsey
I was going to leave this one alone. I don’t like to get too deep into local politics here, but then I read earlier this week about how voting for a property tax increase is like going back in time and investing in Apple stock and so, really, who could resist walking through that very wide open door.
For you non-Austin readers, Central Health, our taxpayer-funded health care district, is asking Travis County residents in November to approve a property tax increase of five cents per $100 valuation in order to raise more money for health care services and partially fund a medical school at The University of Texas at Austin (I know that most grammar experts say to use healthcare instead of health care, but I just can’t do it. Stop reading now if this rebelliousness bothers you too much). For those of you so inclined, there is a long and very complicated backstory about why UT-Austin doesn’t have a medical school, and you can get more details on the proposed tax increase by reading Mike Kanin’s excellent primer, The Med School Solution, in the Austin Chronicle or by visiting Keep Austin Healthy, the PAC set up to advocate for passage of Prop 1.
The gist of it is that the proposed tax increase would raise about 10% of the approximately $4 billion needed over 12 years to fund the medical school and expanded services, or about $54 million annually, an increase of about $100 on the annual tax bill for families living in a median-valued home of $200,000. The Seton Healthcare Family has pledged $2 billion, and UT is in for at least $25 million annually. Supporters are also looking toSection 1115 Medicaid Waivers for federal matching funds of $1.46 for every $1.00 contributed locally.
In addition to the projected benefits in terms of improved access to health care services, Prop 1 supporters are arguing their case on the grounds of economic development. According to a TXP study, funded by a coalition of supporters going by the name HealthyATX, the medical school and teaching hospital are expected to result in$2 billion in new economic activity and 15,400 jobs. TXP is one of the best firms in this business, so to the extent that you believe economic impact analysis can produce reliable data, I’m sure their numbers are as solid as any.
I do, however, have some other questions for Prop 1 supporters:
1. How is a tax increase like investing in the stock market? The comparison to Apple stock was stretching it a bit. Pitching tax increases as investments is standard fare in political communications, but I don’t think this convinced anybody. The $100 increase in my property tax bill may have a social return on investment–we decided that health care is a public good when voters created Central Health in 2004 after all–but that’s not the same as a personal return on investment, much less the staggering gains you’d see from investing in Apple 30 years ago. Yes, you could argue that one day a medical breakthrough at the UT-Austin medical school may benefit me directly, but, I don’t think that’s too convincing, especially given the mood of taxpayers right now.
And speaking of medical breakthroughs…