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Voters approve tax increase to support health initiatives

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Travis County voters issued a victory to a 5-cent tax increase for the jurisdiction’s Central Health District Tuesday. The vote also amounts to an enthusiastic endorsement of a potential University of Texas medical school. More than 54 percent of those voting cast ballots in favor of Proposition 1.


The decision means a 63 percent hike in Central Health property-tax assessment. A late-charging, loosely gathered opposition rallied this fall around the idea that the increase was asking too much.


Tuesday evening, Don Zimmerman, the treasurer of the anti-tax group at the center of Prop. 1 opposition, told In Fact Daily he was more disappointed than surprised by the result. He suggested the group’s late start might have had affected their ability to defeat the proposition.


“It seemed like the more visibility we got on this issue, the more questions were asked, the more people started to vote against it,” he said. “Obviously our momentum was way too late.”


The win is a major victory for state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), the former popular Austin mayor who pulled his considerable political capital into a broad coalition.


With the passage of Prop. 1, officials of the county’s health district expect to generate roughly $55 million as part of the tax hike beginning in October 2013. Those figures translate to a roughly $100 bump in annual property taxes on a $200,000 home.


The additional funds will go to finance 26 specific new Travis County health programs. In so doing, Travis County Central Health hopes to pull back $1.46 for every $1 spent through a federal Medicaid waiver program.


The election victory also officially begins a partnership between Central Health and the Seton family of hospitals. The two organizations have paired to form a care delivery system that would fuel the programs created as part of the waiver application.


The system will also complement a University of Texas medical school. Prop. 1 supporters, Seton and University of Texas officials spent the better part of the fall arguing that the tax increase, the programs it will fund, and the proposed medical school are all integrally connected. For county health officials, the line was that the medical school would provide the doctors and residents to staff community health programs. For the university, the county programs would offer the state’s flagship school a way in to the community that hosts it.


Prop. 1 opponents – who were heavily out-spent – were disparate and not well organized. They included far-right tax protesters, plus those concerned that Seton, a Catholic institution, would cast a shadow on birth control or abortion services. A surprise late opponent to Prop. 1 was Seton’s major local private hospital competitor, St. David‘s.


Early Tuesday evening, Watson told In Fact Daily that he was happy with the result. In addition to predicting that Prop. 1’s lead in the early vote would hold up, Watson also noted that he was very pleased with voter turnout. “I feel very good about the turnout that we had today, and the work that we did to turn out that vote,” he said.

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