By Jaime O. Perez, El Paso Metro
There has been a constant barrage of criticism regarding the lack of a comprehensive plan for a Border Health Institute (BHI) and the efforts by Mayor Ray Caballero to appropriate tax dollars from other taxing entities through Tax Increment Finance Districts (TIFs) to fund what to date has been exposed as little more than a sham. In a public relations effort to convince the public that the BHI is not a farce, the Board of the BHI is meeting this week Monday to discuss the progress toward the creation of a “unified medical campus”. This label has been parroted by both the El Paso Times and, at least, one on-line journal. By referring to a coordination effort by various educational and medical entities as a “medical campus”, it creates the illusion of an independent activity that is grounded in some reality. As was explained by Arturo Huerta, President, of the El Paso Community College Board of Trustees, “EPCC can coordinate its Allied Health programs with Texas Tech and UTEP under BHI.” When asked if such coordination could occur without new funding, he responded, “Yes, of course.” If such is the case, what in the world is the City going to do with almost half a billion dollars of tax funding over the next few decades except to increase the “tax burden on an already overburdened tax payer?”
Texas Tech has plans for a medical school and was donated land for this purpose. Whether the rhetoric of BHI is ever grounded in reality or not, Texas Tech will move forward with its plans. UTEP has no plans to contribute physical assets to any entity beyond the construction of a building already funded by the state legislature for its University biological sciences program. Diana Natalicio, President, of the UTEP made clear that a physical presence next to Texas Tech is a low priority and not really necessary to accomplish UTEP’s objectives. Dr. Manny de la Rosa also made clear that their efforts should not be confused with BHI.
So what is BHI? Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. Hokum. Hallucination. Farce. It is a fancy term meant to deceive the public into carving out enormous sums of tax dollars to support what is, at bottom, a simple “coordination” of activities among various entities. By giving the coordination of activities a label, Mayor Ray Caballero and Senator Elliot Shapleigh hope to dupe the citizens of El Paso out of millions of dollars and to ensure tax increases over the next 50 years by all taxing entities at a greatly exaggerated rate.
What is worse, there is no consensus regarding what an effective coordination will mean. Dr. Natalicio makes a case of inescapable logic and consequence. The fact is that a research, multi-purpose teaching activity can occur without creating another physical campus. Her public comments pointing out that the city has a role in developing a blighted area in the Texas Tech area labeled by Mayor Ray Caballero and Senator Shapleigh as the BHI is a gracious way of avoiding open conflict with the Mayor and Senator Shapleigh and stating the obvious – The City should worry about developing its economic and physical infrastructure and leave UTEP, Texas Tech and El Paso Community College to coordinate their programs as they have intended anyway.
But, El Paso should prepare, nevertheless, for an onslaught of media relations efforts to convince the public that a simple inter-institutional coordination is actually a “unified medical campus” with the label BHI – referred to by critics as the “Bizarre Hokum Illusion.”