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Public backs Parkland tax increase at hearing

By Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Dallas, TX – Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter: The speakers' list at yesterday's public hearing read like a "Who's Who" of Dallas community leaders. The heads of the League of Women Voters, the Chamber of Commerce, several private hospitals, and the Greater Dallas Community of Churches all turned out in support of Parkland's 31% tax increase. Ron Steinhart is chairman of the Dallas Citizens Council.

Ron Steinhart, Chairman, Dallas Citizens Council: None of us likes tax increases, especially business, since we pay a large portion of those tax increases, but because the need for providing quality care to indigents, the need to have the type of facility that Parkland represents, I support fully this increase.

Sprague: Other business leaders addressed the costs of not fully funding Parkland Hospital, saying it would cost the county more in the long run. But Michael Gonzalez with the League of United Latin American Citizens said there was also a moral obligation in the tax increase.

Michael Gonzalez, League of United Latin American Citizens: It's about Parkland serving the working class of society. That's what it's about. And very importantly, it's also about the County developing a conscience, of our county commissioners and our leadership represented by you gentlemen today forging a coalition, a collection of conscience.

Sprague: According to Parkland officials, a 31% tax increase would balance their scaled-back budget. It would cost a Dallas County homeowner with a $100,000 house roughly $50 more in property taxes per year. But school taxes are set to go up this year, and rising property values mean most Dallas residents will also pay more in city taxes. That led Steven May with the Texas Tea Party, an anti-tax group, to oppose a tax increase for Parkland.

Steven May, Texas Tea Party: Government is not going to solve this problem. Jim knows this, and I know this, along with other Libertarians. But we're the only ones that stand by principle.

Sprague: County Commissioner Jim Jackson has been the most vocal in his opposition to any tax increase. But at Tuesday's public hearing, it was Commissioner John Wiley Price who was the most critical of Parkland.

John Wiley Price, Dallas County Commissioner: I've got some real problems with Parkland, and they don't seem to improve with years.

Sprague: Price implied Parkland's proposed budget is riddled with intentional miscalculations that make the hospital's deficit seem worse than it actually is. The commissioner got into a heated exchange with Parkland President and CEO Dr. Ron Anderson over $8 million the hospital will receive from the state that was not included in the original budget. Price suggested Parkland knew of the extra income but withheld the information. But Dr. Anderson denied the claim.

Dr. Ron Anderson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Parkland Hospital: So you found out as soon as we did. And I think that's good.

Price: I just find that peculiar. (The arguing breaks out between the Anderson and Price.)

Sprague: The commissioner said he found out about the money not from Parkland, but by talking with a Houston state representative.

Price: I went probing into your budget as I usually do. I was perusing your budget, and I picked up the telephone and began to make telephone calls based on what you had submitted. And it's not about connections. It's about trying to find out if your budget is an honest budget that was put forth.

Sprague: After the hearing, Dr. Anderson said Price mischaracterized the situation, and insisted Parkland's budget represented hospital officials' best guess at revenues and expenses for this year. Still, Commissioner Price could not be swayed from supporting more than a 22% tax increase. Other commissioners say they haven't decided what tax rate they'll support. They plan to vote on the issue next week. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.