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Local Voters Decide on Med School, Ballpark and Pre-K Initiatives

Voters in Texas’ largest cities decided on a range of controversial ballot propositions on Tuesday, including measures to build a medical school in Austin and to build a baseball field in El Paso.

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Voters in some of Texas’ largest cities decided on a range of controversial ballot propositions on Tuesday, including measures to build a medical school in Austin and to build a baseball stadium in downtown El Paso.

In Austin, two items stood out among a long roster of propositions. Travis County approved a tax ratification measure that would raise local property taxes to fund health initiatives, including the building of a medical school associated with the University of Texas at Austin. UT-Austin President Bill Powers called the vote historic and said he was thrilled with the outcome.

"Now that the vote is over, the hard work of building a medical school begins," Powers said in a prepared statement.

The measure would raise local property taxes by about 5 cents per $100 of property value and was championed by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Supporters of the measure outraised opponents by a massive margin, according to the Austin American-Statesman

Powers had written a letter to the editor that appeared in the American-Statesman arguing that a medical school in Austin would mean a better future for the capital city. “Is it right that the state’s fourth-largest metropolitan area should not have something as basic as a medical research center and teaching hospital?” he wrote. “Does Austin really want to remain one of America’s largest metropolitan areas without a major medical school?”

Opponents of the bond measure criticized the use of taxpayer-funded bonds to pay for the medical school.

Austin voters were also asked to decide whether the city should implement single-member districts. Currently, Austin’s six council members and mayor are elected at-large by voters citywide. Voters could cast ballots for two different plans, and the proposition that received the most support will divide the city into 10 geographic districts that would elect council members. The mayor will continue to be elected at-large by voters citywide. 

In El Paso, voters weighed a sporting decision. In early voting, residents supported a local hotel tax rate to pay for construction of a new baseball field downtown. City officials are planning to demolish the existing City Hall to make way for the new ballpark. El Paso Mayor John Cook has said the ballpark would be built regardless of the outcome of the bond election, which opponents have called “bonds for billionaires.”  

San Antonio voters were faced with a decision on education. Mayor Julián Castro, who has been thrust into the spotlight as a rising star in the Democratic Party, asked voters to approve a sales tax increase of one-eighth of a cent to finance full-day pre-K, primarily for low-income 4-year-olds in the city. Opponents of the plan said it would create more competition for existing public and private pre-K programs and that it would be an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars. Early vote returns indicated voters approved the pre-K plan.

In Houston, voters were on track to approve a package of bond proposals worth billions of dollars for schools, parks, transportation and libraries. Similarly, in Dallas, a package of three bond proposals that would pay for street improvements, flood protection and economic development was headed to approval. 

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that proposition 1 on the ballot in Travis County to raise money for a medical school in Austin was a not a bond measure but a tax ratification measure and that the new El Paso ballpark would not be used for the El Paso Diablos.

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2012 elections