AUSTIN -- Holding orange signs, dozens gathered inside Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin in support of a new teaching hospital and medical school at the University of Texas in Austin. Championed by State Rep. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), the project has already secured investment from the University of Texas and the Seton Healthcare Family to found the school in a new facility that would replace the aging University Medical Center Brackenridge.
On the Travis County ballot, Proposition 1 includes a five-cent tax increase to help fund the project, at a cost to the average Austin homeowner of about $100 a year on a $200,000 home. The increase is intended to raise an additional $35 million annually through Central Health that would be matched by federal funds at a rate of more than two to one.
"For a nickel tax increase, it's a powerful payoff," said former Austin Mayor Carole Keeton Strayhorn, speaking on the behalf of Austinites for Action. "It's exemplary healthcare for our neighbors, for our families, 15,000 permanent new jobs in this greater Austin area and $2 billion in economic boom every year. So vote for Prop 1 for our kids and for our grandkids."
"I take care of a lot of kids that have complex diseases of the nervous system, whether they are rich or poor, have insurance or not," said Tim George, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Dell Children's Medical Center. "I can let you know, we need to develop the sort of cutting edge research to enhance their care. That is so important."
"We don't feel like there are enough details to really understand why the money is needed in this form, and how all of the approvals are going to be reached in order for the community put in money and get back incentive money from the federal government," said 77-year-old Austin activist Mary Arnold.
Meeting with media outside the historic Lions Municipal Golf Course, Arnold argues the university would benefit from taxpayer dollars while at the same time planning potentially lucrative developments such as one proposed on the Lions site.
"They're getting money if Proposition 1 passes, but they'll be taking away something very precious," said Arnold.
On Tuesday, the CEO of St. David's Healthcare broke ranks with others in the healthcare industry, calling the proposed financing of the project "a shell game."
At the same time, the battle has also taken to the airwaves. Political action groups Keep Austin Healthy and the Travis County Taxpayers Union have both bought ads targeting Austin television sets in the final weeks before the election.
"I think the expansion of a medical school concept is certainly an appropriate one," Texas Governor and Austin resident Rick Perry told KVUE after casting his ballot early Thursday morning.
"The idea that we can keep doctors in Texas rather than seeing them have to go somewhere else for their residency training and those types is a very good concept," Perry said. "How that gets done is still up in the air, and the people of Austin and Texas through the legislature will make the right decision. It's a good concept and one that I support from the standpoint of expanding the not only access but also the medical school concept across the state, not just in Austin."
Despite voicing support of the concept of a medical school, Perry wouldn't let on whether his support extended to voting for the tax increase proposed on the Travis County ballot.
"I always keep my voting record to myself," said Perry.
His vote and thousands more will soon be counted.