Saturday, December 29, 2007

Is UA Medical School in NWA a Priority?

Local legislators appropriated $3.1 million to hire initial staff and make renovations at the old Washington Regional Medical Center for classrooms and training facilities, the first step in establishing a satellite facility affiliated with the University of Arkansas medical school. We even have a vice chancellor in charge of the UAMS-Northwest operation. The plan is to train more doctors, pharmacists, and nurses and to hope they stay in Arkansas to provide quality health care.

It is certainly not a done deal. Doug Thompson's column today lays out the arguments being floated for and against a branch of the UA Medical School in
Fayetteville, and he concludes that it would be a net plus and that those for it have a more compelling case. The big question remaining is whether the proposed project is worth $5 million to $8 million a year it will cost to operate? Governor Beebe met with local legislators and UA officials here earlier this month, and he made clear that it would not happen without a dedicated source of funding of at least $8 million a year.

UAMS Chancellor Dodd Wilson provided perspective when he said the annual operating costs t
o train about 250 more students and residents annually were about the equivalent of two, maybe three, football coaches. UA Chancellor John White flashed a smug smile but gave no indication that he thought a medical school was as important as a well-paid coaching staff. Fayetteville's legislative delegation expressed a commitment to work for funding, but the majority of area legislators are Republicans, many of whom have vowed never to vote for any tax increase, even for a medical school in Northwest Arkansas.

So, here is the Jonah Tebbetts Plan for funding a branch of the UAMS Medical School in Fayetteville: close the loopholes and repeal a few of the state sales tax exemptions of more than $600 million for special interests that are not nearly as important as better health care for all Arkansans. For example, here are some of the smaller tax giveaways, based on DF&A estimates in 2001 under a lower tax rate: automobiles purchased by rental car companies, $2,992,000; sale of billboard advertising, $488,000; and membership dues paid for the privilege of membership, $1,773,000. That's more than $5 million right there, and there are lots more of special interest tax exemptions that need to be repealed in the interest of fairness.

But, I don't think it will happen, because powerful lobbyists have more influence than the people, and they think their tax exemptions are more important than adequate health care or a
Fayetteville branch of the UA Medical School. The State Chamber would fight repeal of the $17,950,000 tax exemption for aircraft sold by a manufacture or substantially completed in Arkansas to a purchaser out of state for use exclusively outside Arkansas, even while you pay the sales tax on a used car to get to work. The Farm Bureau would kill any repeal of the $16,210,000 exemption for fertilizer, agricultural chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and vaccines and medications for livestock and poultry, even while we pay sales tax on medicine for sick children. The big corporate media chains that own the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Morning News would beat any repeal of the $17,180,000 sales tax exemption for advertising, while the rest of us still pay sales tax on books and groceries.

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