Texas Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, told a 10-member committee established to lay the groundwork for building a medical school in Austin that it is too early to know how much the proposal will cost.

The organizing committee that Watson appointed in September met last week for the first time.

Watson outlined an 11-step decision tree, with financial aspects as the seventh step.

“Everybody take a deep breath,” he said. “What does the project cost?”

The cost cannot be estimated until more fundamental decisions are made, Watson said. He said the committee should focus first on the scope of the facilities.

Committee member William Powers Jr., the president of the University of Texas, said financial decisions must wait until the group investigates how large medical schools are organized and operate.

The medical school and teaching hospital are the biggest proposals in Watson’s effort, which also includes a comprehensive cancer treatment center and expanded mental health services in Travis County.

University of Texas officials said in 2004 that building a medical school and  an academic hospital in Austin would cost $1 billion to $2 billion.

However, a university official said recently that startup costs would be lower. thanks to recent capital investments in and upgrades to area health care programs.

Watson said the new facilities he envisions would create 15,000 permanent jobs and pump $2 billion a year into the central Texas economy.

The financial plan probably will include several public-private partnerships, he said.

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