treasurer

UT lecturer Ramey Ko has announced he is running in the March election for the Texas House of Representatives.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: Ramey Ko, UT law lecturer and former candidate for the Texas House, is now running for Travis County treasurer against incumbent Dolores Ortega Carter. The Daily Texan editorial board sat down with him last week to discuss his plans and the importance of the office to students. The answers below have been edited and condensed for clarity and space considerations.

The Daily Texan: Why should students care about the race for treasurer?

Ramey Ko: The Travis County treasurer handles all money for Travis County. I mean, that, in and of itself, is a huge responsibility. … That means that, even if you’re a student who doesn’t own property in Austin, you pay rent, which means you indirectly pay property taxes through your landlord. If you register your car here, if you do anything like that, those are things you have to pay. If you vote here, if you go to court, if you end up interacting with any of those, the sheriff’s department. … These are all things that the Travis County treasurer’s office handles. 

DT: What specifically, though, could you do as treasurer to make Austin more affordable for Austinites and students in particular?

RK: The treasurer doesn’t set policy, but the treasurer has the ability to, I think, advocate with the commissioners court for policies that the treasurer believes [create] better economic conditions and climate for the county. A lot of it can just be outreach. … And so that’s something the treasurer’s office can do without any policy changes.

DT: Why does Travis County still need a treasurer, given that several other urban counties in Texas have abolished the post?

RK: It’s not that many, actually. It’s nine, total. And of those counties, the biggest ones are Tarrant and Bexar county, so Dallas and … Harris, for example, still have theirs. The treasurer’s office, in theory, is important because it plays a check-and-balance role. The treasurer is an elected representative of the people, so [he is] directly accountable to voters. And the idea in the Texas Constitution and Texas law is that the treasurer is balanced by the auditor. 

DT: Is there any reason the treasurer’s office couldn’t be merged with the office of the tax assessor collector, who’s also an elected official?

RK: The tax assessor collector is a huge office already in terms of responsibilities because the other thing the tax assessor collector handles in Travis County is [voter registration]. So he has to handle the registration, process all of that, the motor vehicles department. … So I can tell you the tax assessor collector has already got their hands full. … But in other counties that have abolished the position, they’ve been able to basically divvy up the responsibilities between the budget office, the auditor’s office, the investment office. … So it is possible. … And so what I’ve told people is that I’m willing to look at abolishing it because I do think that there is the potential for some savings and some benefits, but I’m not ready to make that decision yet. 

DT: Why are you running for this job? Not long ago, you were running for state rep, but I know you didn’t meet one of the residency requirements. How did you end up in this race, which seems light years away?

RK: I started looking at treasurer because I was approached by some folks in the community who had been trying to find someone to run for this for a while. And, in fact, I remember meeting with somebody a few years ago who had been asked to look at the race, and he thought about running in that race but ultimately decided not to, I think because his own personal political circle overlapped a lot with the incumbent [Dolores Ortega Carter], so I think he thought that would create some issues there.

DT: Can you tell me who that was? 

RK: I’m not going to say … because he didn’t end up coming out and running. … So I knew … that there had been some discontent out there about this office for a while, but, you know, I hadn’t looked at it really closely, so I got approached this summer, last year, by some folks, people I respect, Democratic Party leaders, activists, and said, ‘You know, we think you’d be a great candidate for this office.’ And so I said, ‘OK, well let me take a look at it, do my research. … Let me talk to some folks and get input, see what people think, and I’ll get back to you.’ So I spent about three months researching the position, talking to people in the community, reading about everything I could find about it, just kind of reflecting. And, ultimately, I came to the conclusion that this was a good opportunity and I would like to pursue it. [One of the nice things] about a county treasurer’s office as opposed to a [legislative one] is that it’s a sovereign office, which means if I get elected, it’s my office, my budget, my staff. If I want to implement policies, you know, that’s something that I can do without having to go through a hostile Republican majority. And I won’t have to deal with being a freshman … in the House, which limits you a lot in what you can do. 

DT: So it doesn’t sound like there was anything specific to the position that drew you to it, and to some it might seem like you were just looking for the easiest race to jump into.

RK: I wasn’t going to originally run. … My original thought was that if I didn’t run for the legislature, I would just wait, so the … main reason I did it was because I was approached; I was asked to do it. I’m one of those people who feels that elected official positions, despite having different functions, actually have a lot more in common than people think … because I think at the end of the day, being a treasurer, yeah, the function of the office is financial, and there are a lot of duties that are specific, but … the elected official is not just an employee. The elected official is a manager and leader, so there’s a responsibility to set strategy, to set vision, to set long-term goals. … It’s just like a good manager can manage a group of engineers or a group of accountants, you know? 

DT: Is there anything else you’d like students to know? 

RK: As someone who teaches at the University, who’s been very actively involved in student organizations, like UDems. … Since I’ve been here in Austin, I’ve been very passionate about working with young people, and I continue to be passionate about that. This is a great chance to get somebody who has a very direct tie to students at the University into an important public office, one that maybe people haven’t heard so much about but, you know, can really have a big impact.

Computer science senior David Coon and junior William Vickery, begin planning concepts for their game centered around the sound of a heartbeat at the Global Game Jame at the Skillpoint Alliance.

Photo Credit: Mikhaela Locklear | Daily Texan Staff

At the Skillpoint Alliance in downtown Austin, a crowded room of tech whizzes and video game enthusiasts is cordially buzzing, awaiting the kickoff of the Global Game Jam, an annual weekend of creative collaboration in making video games held in cities around the world. 

The Global Game Jam, which is held annually in Austin in January, has teams create and present a playable game within 48 hours of being given a central theme, which is unknown to the participants before arrival. The theme this year was the soft sound of a heartbeat. In response, the ideas ranged from music-driven platform games set to the pulse of a heartbeat, to role-playing games driven by fantastical narratives. One pitch was a game that put the player in control of a small nanobot swimming through the veins of a dying hospital patient, combatting clots while racing against the pace of a slowing heartbeat. Another concept was a zombie survival game in which the player’s heart rate increased when zombies came close. 

“The Global Game Jam is not a competition,” Bryon Lloyd, the treasurer of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) in Austin, said. “It’s a celebration of making games.”

Lloyd is also the host of this year’s annual Global Game Jam. At Skillpoint Alliance, he said he educates children and teachers to use computer software, while striving to push kids toward secondary education tailored to game development on the Science, Technology, Engineering & Math Council.

The crowd at the Global Game Jam ranges from 15-year-old programmers to game industry veterans who have worked at big-name development studios like Gearbox and Bioware. UT students in the Electronic Game Developers Society, or EGaDS, also attended the event. EGaDS President Leo Schnee said the Global Game Jam prepares participants for the video game industry.

“People make professional connections,” Lloyd said. “The Global Game Jam is a major indicator of whether someone wants to be in the game industry.”

John Henderson, the chapter secretary of the IGDA in Austin, said that attendance at the Global Game Jam frequently leads to the industry, but should not be seen as a straight shot.

Chris Mika, who is the treasurer of EGaDS, said the success of other EGaDS members is proof that the organization succeeds in its purpose. 

“Early members have gone on to create software called GameSalad, [which is] a free game-making tool,” Mika said. 

Similarly, Schnee has been offered a position at the San Francisco based game company Zynga, where he will work following his graduation.

Ultimately, the goal of the Global Game Jam is to help aspiring game developers realize their dreams, Lloyd said. 

“It gives you the opportunity to make something rather that dream about it,” Lloyd said.

More than 400 Austin-area doctors have signaled their support for a Nov. 6 ballot initiative that would increase property taxes in Travis County to help fund a new UT medical school and teaching hospital.

If approved, Proposition 1 would increase property taxes to Central Health, a political subdivision that administers health care services for underserved citizens in the Travis County area, by 5 cents, from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Central Health proposed the ballot initiative in August to fund the school, hospital and other health initiatives.

Although the UT System Board of Regents approved preliminary funding for the school, no timetable for completion has been released.

Dr. Guadalupe Zamora, treasurer for Keep Austin Healthy, a political action committee formed to support the increase, said the initiative would attract experienced residents and faculty and would introduce students to the medical profession.

“Being able to bring fantastic new minds into the field would be a feather in Austin’s cap,” Zamora said.

Dr. Christopher Garrison, program director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency at University Medical Center at Brackenridge, said the school would expand medical research and care for citizens.

Lynda Rife, spokesperson for Keep Austin Healthy, said the revenue from the proposed tax increase would fund primary care, specialty care and trauma care for patients at the new hospital. The Seton Healthcare Family of Hospitals has pledged to contribute $250 million to the hospital. In August, the Austin American-Statesman reported that the school would cost an estimated $4.1 billion over 12 years.

Rife said without the tax increase, the hospital would not be able to provide adequate medical care.

“It’s an investment,” Rife said. “If you vote yes, you will get something for your money.”

In addition, Rife said the federal government will provide $1.46 for every dollar raised through property taxes to go toward the hospital. She said the hospital and school would create about 15,000 jobs and raise an estimated $2 billion annually. In May, the UT System Board of Regents approved the allocation of $30 million in annual operating costs toward the school. The board also pledged $5 million a year for eight years for laboratory equipment.

Don Zimmerman, founder and treasurer of Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee that opposes the increase, said he does not see the need for a tax increase.
“We’re being taxed out of our homes,” Zimmerman said.

Last week, the Austin City Council approved a budget that includes a separate increase in property taxes and utility fees. Effective Oct. 1, the property tax rate collected by the city will increase from 48.11 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 50.29 cents.

Zimmerman said he does not see why the UT System needs to open and operate another medical school.

The UT System currently operates six health institutions in Dallas, Houston, Tyler, San Antonio and Galveston. The UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas also sponsors a residency program specializing in internal medicine at University Medical Center at Brackenridge. Some schools, including the UT Southwestern Medical Center and the UT Health Science Center at Houston, use a local hospital funded by property taxes collected by the cities they are in as their primary teaching hospital.

Printed on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 as: New medical school tax increase proposal prompts discussion