Keller @ Large: Should Non-Profit Universities Pay Up?

BOSTON (CBS) — Harvard University, an endowment of more than $37 billion….Boston University, the city’s third-largest employer…Northeastern University, where the president alone makes more than a million bucks a year.

Three fine institutions, all major local landowners and key players in our local economy, all with multi-million-dollar payrolls, and all with something else in common – none of them are required to pay a dime in property taxes.

“They’re like a Fortune 500 company, and they should be taxed like a Fortune 500 company,” says State Representative David Nangle (D-Lowell), who wants to turn up the heat on wealthy non-profits like these through a bill allowing cities and town to scrap the property tax exemption for non-profits that spend more than 2 1/2 million a year on their five highest-paid employees, thereby sparing low-income non-profits, like soup kitchens and shelters.

Well-heeled non-profits like Harvard, BC and BU do make voluntary payments in lieu of taxes to Boston, but overall the city captures only 67 percent of what it asks from the non-profit community to the dismay of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who notes: “Some of those institutions are great in paying that, and some of those institutions are not as great.”

The head of the Massachusetts Non-Profit Network says Nangle’s bill is the wrong move. “The reason we make non-profits tax exempt is because of the work that they do,” says Jim Klocke. “We need to support that work that they do, and even the largest non-profits are going to be under a lot of financial pressure over the next couple of years.”

But the sight of Harvard and other affluent institutions scrimping on their donations leaves Nangle cold.

“They’re getting all the benefits of a city or town’s infrastructure, police, fire etc. I feel it’s time for them to step up, come to the plate and do something.”

Are you aware of a policy or government spending practice that leaves you saying “what a waste”? Tell me about it via email at Keller@wbztv.com or reach out on Twitter, @kelleratlarge, and I’ll look into it for a possible future story.

More from Jon Keller
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