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Jan. 12: PCHE Institutions Share Deep Concerns Over Services Fee, Taxes on Future Land Purchases As Suggested in Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1175 and House Bill 2191


Teresa Thomas      

Ken Walters

PCHE Institutions Share Deep Concerns Over Services Fee, Taxes on Future Land Purchases
As Suggested in Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1175 and House Bill 2191

The following is a statement from the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education (PCHE), presented by Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary President William Carl.

PITTSBURGH—The Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education (PCHE) opposes proposed Pennsylvania state legislation to place an essential services fee on property owned by nonprofit institutions and taxes on future land purchases. If passed, the bills would harm the vitality of Pittsburgh's universities and colleges, which in turn would harm the region at large.
The legislation is grounded in two false perceptions. The first false perception is that colleges and universities drain services while providing no return to the city. Pittsburgh colleges and universities already pay millions of dollars in taxes and fees to the city. Our institutions directly provide vital services to our neighborhoods, especially through our own police forces. Pittsburgh colleges and universities also combine to provide hundreds of thousands of hours of community service every year. Meanwhile, our institutions have undertaken a variety of building projects aimed at improving neighborhoods and creating new economic vitality for our campuses and those around us. Far from draining services, Pittsburgh's colleges and universities provide direct investments and generate significant economic impact that anchor the city's economy and that are vital to its long-term financial viability.
The second false perception is that expanding universities are converting tax-bearing property to tax-exempt status, eroding Pennsylvania's tax base. In fact, university properties constitute only a small fraction of tax-exempt property statewide, while government owns the vast majority of this property.
The overall health and stability of Pittsburgh's colleges and universities and the economic brainpower we generate explains why we have become recognized worldwide for the region's resilience. Weakening the vitality of our institutions in no way spares or protects vulnerable residents. It only serves to weaken the overall economic foundation that these citizens, who are our neighbors, ultimately depend upon for their future.
Taxing nonprofit organizations because of the public good that they do is fundamentally flawed policy. The exemption accorded to charitable organizations has stood the test of time because it serves the public good, and continually resurrecting this issue only delays debate of real solutions to the problem.
The Pittsburgh higher education community shares the state's desire to find real solutions to the fiscal cloud hanging over our cities and towns. In Pittsburgh, we believe we have begun to find a path to real solutions. Responding to the leadership of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, we are helping to forge a broad coalition of nonprofits and the business community to support a sound fiscal future for Pittsburgh. We believe this coalition is a model that can be replicated across Pennsylvania.