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The new university and medical school for the Rio Grande Valley has been a high priority for many local government officials and community members. But after gaining very positive momentum in the state legislature this session, the proposal was nearly derailed due to a tug-of-war between Hidalgo and Cameron County leaders over where the new school should be located.

In the final weeks of the session, lawmakers in Austin and leaders from both counties worked out an agreement, gaining approval of the necessary legislation creating the medical school in the Valley. Both the Texas House and Senate passed Senate Bill 24, which makes possible the merger between the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville and creates the new medical school.

Currently, the bill is waiting for approval by Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Half of the new medical school campus is to be housed in Hidalgo County on UTPA property and the other half in Cameron County at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen. Mayor of Edinburg Richard Garcia explains why placing the first two years of the medical school in Hidalgo County makes sense.

“Most of the investment in the medical community comes to the area where the first and second year is located,” Garcia said. “I think right now we are in a place that San Antonio was in 25 years ago; they had the same demographic we do, population wise.”

He explained Brownsville would gain because they get a new campus, but he said the majority of the funding would come from Hidalgo County taxpayers.

“Eventually, there will be a medical taxing district. If we ask taxpayers to pay for something that isn’t going to be here they are not going to want to pay for it,” Garcia said.

They have to look at failure and sustainability, he explained saying, some people were bothered when he called the issue something like “Friday Night Football.” The mayor explained that unfortunately, Brownsville does not have the dollars to support the full medical school.

The medical school is projected to cost between $45-$60 million to maintain annually. UTPA President Robert Nelsen said previously that the merger of the two schools, creating a new university, allows them access to Permanent University Fund (PUF), valued at billions of dollars.

“Actually the access to PUF is the big plus for the undergraduate school,” Garcia said. “Generally the funding comes more from philanthropy and a taxing district. That is what we have seen historically.”

The mayor said the total amount to be received from PUF has not been discussed, but Hidalgo County and multiple municipalities within the county have committed to fund $100 million for 10 years or until a medical taxing district is put in place.

While the Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance and other medical clinics in the area are contributing $60 million of that total in matching funds specifically for residencies over the first 10 years, according to a press release from the City of Edinburg, City of Pharr and the City of McAllen.

State Representative Sergio Muñoz Jr. said the ability to use the funding to expand more buildings and space will give people in the area more of an opportunity to get a higher education and will allow them to compete with other parts of the state.

With the Rio Grande Valley very close to seeing its first medical school, Garcia said he is proud to have been part of the process.

“We are definitely making history…for the Hispanics in the area,” Garcia said. “We are very fortunate that the University of Texas has evolved to where it is now. That has helped many of us get an education and get good jobs.”

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