MCALLEN, RGV – UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine is precariously balanced and will need significant local funds if it is to function and grow, says state Sen. Juan Hinojosa.
“The medical school is not okay. I don’t think people really realize how much money it costs and how complicated it is to create a new medical school,” Hinojosa told the Rio Grande Guardian. “The type of equipment that it needs, the type of infrastructure support that it needs to be successful. We cannot do a top-notch job unless we get support and help from the community.”
Hinojosa made his comments immediately following a McAllen Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs committee meeting. During the event, the veteran lawmaker from McAllen spoke about a range of legislative issues and was asked by a committee member what would happen if Proposition 1 does not pass.
“Will there be an adequate funding source,” the committee member asked, referencing a recent newspaper article that said the City of McAllen looks set to renege on its promise to provide $2 million a year to the UTRGV School of Medicine.
Proposition 1 is on the November ballot and gives Hidalgo County voters an opportunity to create a healthcare district.
“It is a pretty complicated issue in terms of Prop. 1 and the Healthcare District,” Hinojosa responded. “If you ask me straight out, do I support a healthcare district, the answer is yes. The benefits outweigh the negatives.”
Hinojosa then explained changes to legislation he authored that gives Hidalgo County voters the chance to set up a healthcare district. The new governmental body will take over responsibility from Hidalgo County for providing healthcare to the indigent poor.
“Here is what is happening. We put a provision in the healthcare district legislation at the request of constituents that the county must reduce their property taxes by the same amount as the money that is transferred and taken up by the healthcare district,” Hinojosa said.
“To my way of thinking, if they (the healthcare district) are requesting eight cents per $100 (of property valuation), they (Hidalgo County Commissioners Court) must reduce property taxes on the county side by eight cents. It is a wash. The healthcare district will be able draw down federal funds, 2-1, 3-1, in matching funds. We don’t that that now. To me, that is the advantage of that.”
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Hinojosa delved deeper into the relationship between a Hidalgo County Healthcare District and UTRGV School of Medicine.
“In every region of the state that has a medical school, the community has stepped up to help and do its part. It is important that we do our part, whether it is through a healthcare district or through the contributions of our different cities. It is very important,” Hinojosa said.
“While the state will fund the majority of the needs of the medical school and there will be research money coming in, we still need for the community to have skin in the game. At the end of the day, it is a tremendous benefit for us here in the Rio Grande Valley. We need to do our share and our part.”
The story about the City of McAllen reneging on its promise to pay $2 million a year to UTRGV for ten years, in order to get the medical school of the ground, appeared in the McAllen Monitor newspaper. The story said McAllen officials would not say why they would not fund the medical school. There was speculation that the funding was not forthcoming because UTRGV did not have a significant presence in McAllen.
Asked to respond, Hinojosa told the Rio Grande Guardian: “There is always a lot of strategy and maneuvering going on in trying to negotiate different types of situations and locations for parts of the medical school. That is being resolved.”
Asked to elaborate on his point about the positives of a healthcare district outweighing the negatives, Hinojosa said: “For one, thousands of jobs will be created. Two, there will be an improvement in access to healthcare. Three, there will be an increase in doctors here in the Valley. Four, there will be growth in the economy. At some point in the future it will be a multi-billion-dollar complex here in the Valley. Also, in the long term, it will stabilize our property taxes. Right now we do not qualify for matching funds from the federal government because we do not have a healthcare district. Every region in the state of Texas that has a medical school has a healthcare district.”
Hinojosa it was important to note that property taxes paid by property owners to Hidalgo County will go down to offset taxes charged by the Healthcare District, if it is approved by voters. “We changed the statute the session before last. We made a lot of changes in taxpayer protection and oversight. There is a provision there that says, the county will reduce its property taxes by an equal amount to what is transferred over to the healthcare district. We do not set the tax rate in the legislature. That is a local decision made by the county commissioners.”
The Valley’s medical school was being formed around the same time Austin got a medical school. Given that he visits Austin a lot, for legislative work, Hinojosa was asked how that city’s medical school is developing. “They are doing great because they passed a healthcare district. They were willing to contribute and pay their share of the medical school. No different to San Antonio. They did the same thing. They stepped up and said, okay, we will create a healthcare district. Property taxes (in San Antonio) have been pretty stable and predictable while, at the same time, there has been the creation of a multi-billion medical complex.”
Hinojosa was asked if there was a lack of leadership in Hidalgo County, with so few elected officials coming out in support of a healthcare district. A reporter asked if he and Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia were the only ones exhibiting leadership qualities. Hinojosa said: “I think they have (come out). Obviously there are people that oppose it and that is their right. Nothing wrong with that. But there is so much misinformation and distortion. And, quite frankly, outright misinformation by those who are opposed to it. They scare people off and they are pretty aggressive. It scares people and intimidates people.”
Hinojosa gave a shout out to the Rev. Jerry Frank of St. John the Baptist Church in San Juan for trying to redress the balance. Frank has been holding town hall meetings in numerous parishes in support of a hospital district.
“I think Father Jerry Frank has always been community oriented and very family oriented and he has a passion to help poor people, working families. He is doing a great job and I am glad he is educating the community,” Hinojosa said.
“People think the healthcare district is only for the benefit of the poor. That is 100 percent wrong. With the healthcare district, you will be able to deal with the working poor but also people who have insurance because we will be creating specialties we do not currently have here in the Valley. They don’t have to go to Houston, they don’t have to go to San Antonio, they don’t have to go to Dallas. You will have a lot more services.”
Hinojosa added: “The jobs that will be created are not minimum wage jobs. They are jobs that pay $100,000, $90,000. We have to look in terms of the good of the community. Each one of us will have to make an individual sacrifice but we are talking about the future of our children and grandchildren, not just us. It is important that we think about the future of the Valley.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series examining the relationship between a Hidalgo County Healthcare District and UTRGV School of Medicine. Click here to read Part One.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows state Sen. Juan Hinojosa speaking at a McAllen Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs committee event. Also pictured, from left to right, are Mark Hanna and Charles Marina of First American Realty, and Steve Ahlenius, president of McAllen Chamber of Commerce.