State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, former chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, expressed support Tuesday for a Nov. 6 ballot initiative that would increase property taxes in order to help fund a proposed UT medical school and teaching hospital.
Zaffirini, a UT alumni whose district encompasses a portion of Travis County, told The Daily Texan that although she will not be voting in Travis County, she hopes her constituents will vote in favor of the ballot initiative. She said the proposed medical school would aid the University’s mission of providing comprehensive education and serving Texas citizens.
Proposition 1 would increase property taxes collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The increase would contribute $35 million toward operations at the teaching hospital and purchase medical services from students and faculty of the medical school for the general public.
“This is an opportunity to enhance education at UT in a new arena,” Zaffirini said.
She said she hopes those who oppose Proposition 1 will consider how establishing a UT medical school will improve medical services in Travis County.
Zaffirini served as chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee from its establishment in 2009 until October, when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst replaced her with State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. Zaffirini currently serves as a member of the committee with State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who has worked with the University for the past six years to establish a medical school.
In a phone interview, Watson said he is not surprised by Zaffirini’s endorsement because of her advocacy for higher education.
“It’s wonderful to have someone with her level of expertise supporting Proposition 1,” Watson said.
He said the University will not be able to establish a medical school without the revenue generated by the property tax increase.
“Without Prop. 1’s passage, UT will lose out on the ability to [establish a medical school],” Watson said.
During a press conference Tuesday, UT President William Powers Jr. said the University does not have an alternate stream of revenue to fund the medical school, making the passage of Proposition 1 essential to establishing the school.
“If there are other ways to get that done, we’re open to that,” Powers said.
If voters approve Proposition 1, it will not take effect until a U.S. district court conducts a hearing regarding the legality of the proposition’s ballot language. Last week Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee that opposes Proposition 1, sued Central Health, alleging that the proposition’s ballot language violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 by misleading voters and expressing advocacy for the proposition. A hearing is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 14.