Student organizations rally for Prop 1

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Representatives from 20 UT student organizations and the alumni assocation Texas Exes rallied to express support Friday for a contentious Nov. 6 property tax increase UT officials say is the deciding factor in plans to bring a UT medical school and teaching hospital to Austin.

The Proposition 1 ballot initiative has faced heavy scrutiny from community members and organizations in the past few weeks. Most recently, the Travis County Taxpayers Union sued Central Health, the county health entity charged with health care services for Austin, claiming the wording of Proposition 1 advocates for its passage, which violates the Voting Rights Act.

At a press conference Friday, UT alumnus and Texas Exes board member Dennis McWilliams said because the Texas Legislature has cut funds to higher education institutions, seeking appropriations from the state is not a viable option for funding the medical school, making the property tax increase essential for the school’s establishment.

“Unlike many of the voting propositions that you have where you may feel your vote is lost in a sea of red and blue, this is one where your vote can actually make a real difference,” McWilliams said.

Proposition 1 would increase property taxes collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, from 7.89 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 12.9 cents and provide an additional $35 million to help fund operations at the teaching hospital and purchase medical services at the hospital, among others.

Kappa Rho Pre-Medical Honor Society, Texas Cowboys, Orange Jackets and other student organizations were among those that voiced support for the proposition.

Missy Wu, Kappa Rho president, said passing Proposition 1 is essential to establishing the medical school and providing care to needy citizens in Travis County. She said those who oppose Proposition 1 solely because it would raise taxes are not thinking about the long-term positive effects the proposition could yield, such as building a permanent base of resident physicians in Travis County.

“With such great research, faculty and potential students, Proposition 1 could really benefit health care in Austin,” Wu said.

In May, the UT System Board of Regents pledged $30 million a year for eight years and $25 million per year after the first eight years for the medical school. The Seton Family of Hospitals pledged $250 million toward the teaching hospital.

If voters approve Proposition 1, it may not be implemented until after a court rules on the legality of the proposition’s wording on the ballot. A representative for the Travis County Taxpayers Union said U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel has Joscheduled a hearing for Nov. 14.

Printed on Monday, October 29, 2012 as: Proposition 1 spurs support, controversy over wording