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El Paso leaders told money is tight for med school
February 18, 2009

The meeting with Dewhurst was part of a two-day event at the Capitol in which El Paso leaders work to lobby Texas lawmakers and promote issues important to the border city.

Written by Brandi Grissom, The El Paso Times


AUSTIN -- Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told El Paso leaders Tuesday that the outlook for state dollars to build more facilities at the medical school campus is not bright this year, but he hoped federal economic stimulus dollars could help get the job done.

"I would love to tell you all no problem," Dewhurst said to a group of El Pasoans, including Mayor John Cook and Dr. Jose Manuel de la Rosa, founding dean of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso.

The meeting with Dewhurst was part of a two-day event at the Capitol in which El Paso leaders work to lobby Texas lawmakers and promote issues important to the border city.

The day started with El Pasoans delivering El Paso-style goody bags to each of the 181 lawmakers and ended with a Margarita Madness party at a downtown hotel.

Much of the day, though, was taken up by meetings with lawmakers, including Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry.

Texas Tech's de la Rosa told Dewhurst that school officials appreciated his support in getting money that has gotten the school up and running and invited him to a ceremony welcoming the first class of doctors in August.

"If you can do a little more magic, we'd really, really appreciate it," de la Rosa said.

Texas Tech officials are seeking $65 million in revenue bonds to construct a third building on campus and an additional $30 million to build a pediatric treatment center.

Those requests are in addition to the $65 million the school is requesting from the state for operations expenses, such as paying faculty and staff.

Getting lawmakers' support for the building money was the top priority for the group of about 40 El Paso leaders who went to the Capitol, and the City Council on Monday approved adding the request to their legislative agenda.

Dewhurst explained to the group that lawmakers this year have $9 billion less to write the state's two-year budget than they had in 2007.

Texas, he said, isn't in as dire straits as other states, but he said lawmakers must be cautious as the economic crisis continues. "All is not black," though, Dewhurst said he planned to examine the $870 billion federal economic stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed Tuesday to see whether money set aside for Texas could be used for the Texas Tech buildings.

During the 30-minute meeting, Dewhurst also said he thought lawmakers would put in place a system to funnel state dollars to institutions such as the University of Texas at El Paso that are striving to become national research universities.

Gov. Perry told the group that Texas should "strike while the iron's hot," and work to attract new faculty to schools like UTEP from public schools in other states that are facing budget cuts in higher education because of the economic crisis.

"You're able to offer some quality of life in El Paso that very few other places can offer," Perry said.

Though lawmakers delivered some unpleasant news about the state's economic conditions, Mayor Cook said it wasn't unexpected. The city is facing the same kind of troubles with a $9 million shortfall, he said.

"The state's going to do the same thing we did" in writing the city budget, Cook said. "They're going to look at where they can trim it, and make sure they don't cut off their essential programs."

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