Proposed UT medical school would carry 12-year price tag of $4.1 billion, could bring tax increase

surgery

Leave it to nosy reporters to sully the noble notion of building a world-class medical school here in Austin.

For nearly a year, Austin’s own state Sen. Kirk Watson has been stumping for such a school, with a research center, a teaching hospital and associated neighborhood clinics. The University of Texas, the community, the state, the nation and the world would benefit.

Just as our hearts had swelled to near bursting, along comes the Austin American-Statesman to tell us that all of this medicine, education and all-around good feeling will cost $4.1 billion over the next 12 years.

The taxpayers of Travis County would pay $420 million of the total through a taxing authority called Central Health, which provides low-income health care services. With the numbers out of the bag, Central Health is now thinking it might be a good idea to calculate the potential property tax increase and put it to a vote in November, the story says.

This isn’t to suggest a medical school of this scale isn’t worth every nickel of that $4.1 billion. The money quite obviously wasn’t the issue for Watson, or the American-Statesman wouldn’t have had to file an open records request to compel the UT System to release spreadsheets of estimates that had been developed.

To avoid other, similar deflations of public pride, system officials have asked state Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion that would allow them to keep other records pertaining to the medical school secret.

According to the spreadsheets $233 million in debt would be financed to get started, building the needed classrooms, administrative and research buildings and adequately outfitting them.

The annual budget in the first year is estimated at $23 million. In 12 years that figure will have grown to $510 million.

Seton Hospital, which had originally made plans for a $250 million teaching hospital project, is now penciled in for $1.9 billion through 2024 for a share of the cost of operating a University of Texas medical school.

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Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of surgery by flickr user VishalKapoorMD, used via a Creative Commons license.