TRUTH TEST: Adding context to Central Health Prop 1 television ads

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 29, 2012 at 6:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 12:03 PM

AUSTIN -- Even if you haven't seen the ads supporting and opposing Central Health Prop 1 on the Travis County ballot, you've probably heard many of the talking points by now.

"A med school would help create 15,000 new jobs and bring our community cutting edge medical services we deserve," claims the ad paid for by Keep Austin Healthy PAC, the political committee behind the effort to bring a new teaching hospital and medical school to the University of Texas at Austin.

The numbers are from a report prepared for the project's backers by Austin-based economic analysis firm TXP, Inc. President Jon Hockenyos explained in an August interview with KVUE the report predicting a gain of 15,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic activity was a forecast based upon the project's completion, a timeline that could stretch up to 15 years.

"This is probably a bigger deal for Austin than Toyota coming to San Antonio was," Hockenyos told KVUE. "It isn't something that's obviously going to happen next year. It's a target for us to shoot at, essentially."

The same ad lays out the cost -- "All for just a nickel tax increase, under $9 per month for the average household."

According 2011 Census data, the median home value in Travis County is $200,300. A five cent tax rate increase would total $100.15 a year, which would break down to $8.35 per month, or less than nine dollars. According to the official ballot language:

CENTRAL HEALTH TAX RATIFICATION ELECTION
PROP. 1: Approving the ad valorem tax rate of $0.129 per $100 valuation in Central Health, also known as the Travis County Healthcare District, for the 2013 tax year, a rate that exceeds the district’s rollback tax rate. The proposed ad valorem tax rate exceeds the ad valorem tax rate most recently adopted by the district by $0.05 per $100 valuation; funds will be used for im-proved healthcare in Travis County, including support for a new medical school consistent with the mission of Central Health, a site for a new teaching hospital, trauma services, specialty medicine such as cancer care, community-wide health clinics, training for physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals, primary care, behavioral and mental healthcare, prevention and wellness programs, and/or to obtain federal matching funds for healthcare services.

"What Proposition 1 would do is it would provide funding so that we could increase health care and access to health care in Central Texas," State Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) explained Sunday in an interview for KVUE Weekend Daybreak. "Part of that would be that there would be the ability to then purchase services from a medical school at the University of Texas so that we would be able to get health care services in our community. It wouldn't build a medical school, instead it would purchase services and when you combine that with the funding that's otherwise available to build a medical school, you'd get that."

"What this does is it helps provide services throughout the community," said Watson. "A lot of those services will be in clinics in neighborhoods, longer hours for clinics to be open on weekends, better behavioral health, things to make our whole community healthier."

An ad paid for by the Travis County Taxpayers Union SPAC, opponents of the tax increase, has taken to the airwaves as well. It points out that "a new Round Rock medical school opened in 2009... with no local property tax."

The Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Round Rock is funded by a mixture of public and private contributions which includes funding controlled by the Texas Legislature, which Watson has pointed out reduced higher education funding as part of the 2011 budget cuts. Local taxpayers in other cities such as San Antonio have supported medical schools through various vehicles which include hospital districts and bonds.

The ad also claims, "Travis County has its share of doctors... more than any other metro county."

According to the Department of State Health Services, Travis County has 268.6 direct patient care physicians (DPC) for every 100,000 residents. That's the third highest ratio in the state and the highest of any major urban county. Supporters argue Austin is short certain types of doctors, and point to reports provided by the Seton HealthCare Family from 2009 and 2011 that predict Austin will be short hundreds of doctors in the coming years.

The bottom line for the opposition is that Austin's tax rate is high enough.

"Each one of these taxes and each one of the tax increases by itself doesn't drive you out of your home," Travis County Taxpayers Union Co-Founder Don Zimmerman explained to KVUE in September. "But when you add up all the property taxes and all the increases, people are literally being taxed out of their homes."

The points made by each side check out when compared to facts on the ground, yet there's always room for a certain degree of interpretation. Voters will soon decide which side has done a better job of making their case.

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