November 30, 2017
I asked Scott Forbes, UTHealth vice president of governmental relations, to give us an update on the 85th session of the Texas Legislature. Scott joined UTHealth in 2007 and is our institution’s liaison to local, state, and federal officials. As you know, the Texas Legislature meets every other year to deliberate, consider proposals, and approve the biennial budget. This year, in addition to its regular session, which started January 10, 2017, a special session met July 18-August 15.
Questions we posted to Scott:
UT is a state school. What does that mean in the context of legislative support?
UTHealth receives funding from the state via set formulas. Educational funding has not kept pace with the growth in our medical school class size. As an example, in the 2000-2001 biennium, “instruction and operations,” the largest state formula fund, provided UTHealth over $54,000 per medical student. Seventeen years later, that funding is now $44,800 per medical student. The other two main formulas – “research” and “infrastructure” – have experienced similar declines. As the state’s formula funding declines, UTHealth has to use other sources of revenue to make up the difference and continue to fund important programs.
Another source of Legislative funding, “special-item funding,” has historically provided financial support for programmatic growth. Examples of previously funded special-item appropriations include trauma care, heart disease and stroke, and programs to support “world’s greatest scientists.” Special items were reduced this session between 8 and 17 percent.
How did UTHealth fare in this session?
As originally proposed at the beginning of the legislative session, UTHealth would have received a substantial $35 million reduction in funding. Thanks to remarkable advocacy for our school and our programs by Dr. Colasurdo, Kevin Dillon, members of the UTHealth Development Board, and our legislative delegation, by the end of the session the Legislature approved an increase of more than $2.6 million in the higher education section of the budget. Of the 10 health-related institutions, UTHealth was one of just four that gained funding – 5 institutions lost funding and one remained flat. The $2.6 million was the second largest increase in the state among the health-related institutions.
How did McGovern Medical School do?
There were some substantial victories for the medical school. The school was granted flexibility to recruit up to 25 out-of-state MD/PhD students to recruit the best and brightest students nationally. This increase in out-of-state students will not have an impact on the school’s existing 10 percent allotment for out-of-state recruits.
In addition, the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences received a $4 million special item for post-traumatic stress disorder—an important public health problem.
The big news is that $125 million in funding was tentatively approved to add a 304-bed continuum of care campus adjacent to Harris County Psychiatric Center. This new hospital would make us the largest academic psychiatric hospital in the United States and would increase our ability to care for a patient population that needs our help.
Thank you, Scott, for your dedication to UTHealth and McGovern Medical School. You have a demanding position that requires incredible skill and diplomacy. We are grateful for your expertise and vast experience. We are so fortunate to have you leading UTHealth’s governmental relations team on behalf of each of us. Thank you also to our faculty and staff who reviewed legislation, provided testimony, or participated in legislative events or tours.