EDITORIAL: Fulfilling a promise: Hidalgo Co., McAllen approve $1M each for UTRGV medical school

The question of whether to fund the UTRGV School of Medicine was brought before two different governmental entities within two days this week and, thankfully, resulted in the same outcome: to give the fledgling medical school much-needed money.

We praise the McAllen City Commission for agreeing on Monday to give $1 million to the medical school. We also commend Hidalgo County Commissioners, who on Tuesday also voted to give $1 million to this worthy institution.

This was the fourth such $1 million payment approved by Hidalgo County Commissioners for the UTRGV School of Medicine since 2014. And it prompted Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia to tell the crowd (which included UTRGV President Guy Bailey): “Hidalgo County has honored its commitment and has paid toward the development of the UTRGV Med School a sum of $4 million with one additional payment to be made next year. I want the community to be aware of what we’ve done. I want to make sure I stated how proud I am of the commissioner’s court for having done that.”

The unanimous action of county commissioners are noted, especially coming just hours after a heated debate among McAllen City Commissioners on whether to support the medical school.

Leading the opposition was Commissioner John Ingram who said dropping city revenue required commissioners to hold back funds. The City of McAllen had previously only made one $2 million payment in 2014, despite a memo of understanding with the university in which it agreed to pay “up to” $2 million per year for the medical school.

“We should save our money right now for a rainy day because we don’t know what will happen with revenues,” Ingram said. “Sometimes the thing to do is to take care of your family first.”

We respectfully disagree and point out that UTRGV is very much a part of our Valley’s family.

We praise those, like McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, who supported it, saying “It’s a game changer for our area.”

We also support the notion of a special election, which Darling proposed Monday, that would be held for a healthcare district that would solely fund the medical school — not private hospitals or clinics. Twice already county voters have overwhelmingly struck down a county-wide healthcare district with many criticizing how much taxpayer funds would have gone to private hospitals and clinics for indigent care. By only allowing funds to be used for UTRGV’s medical school, this would clarify to voters exactly where the money would go. And, if passed, it would unequivocally show lawmakers in Austin our local commitment to support our medical school.

Gov. Greg Abbott has made a point to tell our Monitor’s editorial board that lawmakers in Austin have been disappointed by the lack of support the Valley seems to have for its medical school.

Given the fight that the institution incurred this past legislative session for funding, it’s obvious that we must change that perception if UTRGV’s medical school is to stand any chance of getting more funds when the Legislature meets again in 2019.

We believe McAllen’s vote on Monday was a strong step in the right direction and showed real regional leadership.

We again praise the cities of Pharr and Edinburg, which have continued to show their support for the medical school by making payments ranging from $500,000 to $1 million every year since 2014.

As McAllen Commissioner Richard Cortez said on Monday: “We have an opportunity to make the best investment available to us today. It doesn’t matter where it’s located because we are a region and we will benefit from that … We ought to nurture it and do everything possible to make it successful.”

Cortez, a former McAllen mayor, made that statement just hours before he announced on Tuesday morning that he would be running for Hidalgo County judge in 2018.

Politics aside, Monday night’s vote was the right thing to do and we hope other cities in our Rio Grande Valley will recognize this commitment and sacrifice that these entities have made. And hopefully they, too, will enter into agreements to offer support for this institution that will foster the best and brightest and provide healthcare resources for us all for decades to come.

— The Monitor Editorial Board