AUSTIN (KXAN) - In just about six weeks, voters in Travis County will decide whether to pay more taxes for health care. One item on the November ballot calls for a tax increase for the county's health care district to help support a proposed medical school in Austin.
The 5-cent property tax increase will be used to fund a variety of projects, including $35 million to support the school and teaching hospital. However, the tax revenue will not help build them.
The school itself will cost an estimated $4.1 billion, drawn from federal sources, Seton Healthcare and the University of Texas.
Construction of the school will mean more affordable health care and less financial drain on the community.
"We can save taxpayer dollars by reducing costly visits to emergency rooms by enhancing and providing more affordable healthcare for our indigent population," said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who has been the driving force behind the project.
If voters approve the tax increase, Watson said organizers could finalize the approval process and begin recruiting a dean and other faculty in early 2013. It could still be another two to three years before facilities are complete.
"This isn't so much about paying another tax and getting nothing as it is about investing money so you can get a really good return," said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency room director at University Medical Center Brackenridge.
Ziebell said Austin has a shortage of doctors and must "grow our own physicians here," especially those who can give specialty treatment.
"Right now, this community from all walks of life having to go to Houston to MD Anderson for cancer care," he said. "They have to go places for advanced surgeries that aren't done here. Transplants, for example… people have to go to Dallas or San Antonio or Houston."
Ziebell said 80 percent of medical students end up practicing within 50 miles of where they completed school and their residency.
Supporters of the medical school plan said that it would bring 15,000 jobs to the area. A majority of those jobs would not require a bachelor's degree. The estimated annual economic impact could go as high as $2 billion.
But opponents have said the proposed tax increase on the November ballot is far too high. Don Zimmerman, the head of the Travis County Taxpayer Union, said passing Proposition 1 would give a green light to spend millions on unnecessary programs.
"The slogan is ‘Keep Austin Healthy' and we agree," Zimmerman said. "We have got to stop the bleeding of these property taxes that are literally driving people out of their homes, and we have to not accept this property tax subsidy for a medical school because people can't afford it."
KXAN is teaming up with Leadership Austin for a Town Hall Breakfast called Decision 2012 on Oct. 10 at 7:30 a.m. at the Long Center's Dell Hall.
We have gathered experts to help you understand the major issues you will be deciding at the polls. If you would like to buy a ticket, check out our ATXpansion page .
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