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City weighs taxpayer burden of medical school, bond package

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TWC News: City weighs taxpayer burden of medical school, bond package
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There were tense discussions at city hall Tuesday as city council members combed through a list of more than $1 billion in city improvement projects and tried to squeeze them into a $385 million bond package.

Council Member Mike Martinez suggested increasing the package to $400 million, while trying to work around Mayor Lee Leffingwell's reluctance to raise taxes.

Leffingwell says he is hesitant to increase the size of the bond package because the council has already approved rate increases for electricity, water and natural gas service, among others.

The mayor also supports State Sen. Kirk Watson's push to establish a medical school at the University of Texas, and to build a new, state-of-the-art research hospital.

"Realizing that it is such a high priority for our city and for our region, I think it's very appropriate for other jurisdictions to keep in mind that we have to respect that request too," Leffingwell said.

Sen. Watson says his law firm is not at all involved in the efforts to bring a medical school to the University of Texas, but voters need to be educated about the benefits higher taxes will bring.

"They are going to want to create 15,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic activity,” Sen. Watson said. “They are going to want to take care of the indigent population, so they save money because people aren't at the emergency room."

However, it all still comes with a price tag. Travis County voters would pick up about 10 percent of the tab, or $35 million a year. That would cost the average Austin area homeowner about $88 more a year in property taxes.

"For every dollar of local money we put up, the federal government will match it with $1.46," Watson said.

Leffingwell expects Austin's bond package to be broken up into about seven parts—including transportation, affordable housing and parks.

The city council will have its final work session on the bond election next Tuesday. Click here for more information.

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