All indications are that the offices of Yale Vice President and Director of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. spent a lot of time on the phone with students yesterday.
About 75 students gathered on Cross Campus throughout the day Monday to call Alexander and DeStefano’s offices and urge progress on talks to increase Yale’s contribution in lieu of taxes to the city. The campaign was organized by the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition, a group of Yale organizations formed in April that claims there is a $10 million gap between the actual tax value of University property and the payments the city receives in lieu of those taxes.
Both Alexander and Yale Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand declined to comment on the campaign.
Rob Smuts, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, who has been involved in the discussions about Yale’s contribution, said he would not want the group to interfere with progress on the town-gown talks.
“We’re not demanding anything from the University, we’re engaging in a dialogue about a partnership,” Smuts said. “Partnerships take a lot of work and they take a lot of care. You wouldn’t want brusque demands from some party to interfere with something productive you are building. I don’t think that will result from this, but I think it’s something you have to pay attention to.”
Any change in the status of Yale’s contributions to the city would be the first change since 1990, when the Yale Golf Course was opened to taxation and the University began paying the city for fire services. Yale, like most nonprofits, is exempt from property taxes on its noncommercial buildings. Property taxes are the major source of funding for New Haven, which has faced budgetary problems in recent years. New Haven also receives about 65 percent of the money it would have obtained from taxing Yale through Connecticut’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes program (PILOT).
Although political pressure to change Yale’s tax-exempt status has emerged on the city and state levels in recent years — both the Board of Aldermen and State Rep. Toni Walker have supported measures that would encourage Yale to give more money — Yale officials have said in the past that the opening of talks with the city has more to do with New Haven’s ongoing fiscal problems than with pressure from politicians or student groups.
Josh Eidelson ’06, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee (UOC), one of the Fair Share Coalition’s member groups, said that the launch of talks had encouraged the coalition.
“The fact that these negotiations are happening now demonstrates the importance of pressure from students and the community in pushing Yale to have a more progressive settlement with New Haven,” Eidelson said.
In addition to the UOC, 13 other undergraduate student groups — including The Black Student Alliance at Yale, Movimiento Estudantil Chicano/a de Atzlan, and Jews for Justice — belong to the coalition.
Ben Siegel ’07, who is involved with Jews for Justice, said different groups had different motives for joining the coalition.
“The highest principle of charity in Jewish tradition is to give in a way that facilitates other people becoming empowered and gaining control of their futures,” Siegel said. “We hope that the University will live up to those principles.”
UOC member Helena Herring ’07, who helped organize the phone calls yesterday, said there was a lot of support for the coalition’s ideas.
“People have been really receptive and excited by the idea and people who have been coming to make calls have not been inclusive of the member groups,” Herring said. “It shows that there is broad-based support for this.”
Dwight Hall chose not to join the coalition in a sharply divided vote in April. Morand and Yale Associate General Counsel Jim Carolan attended that meeting, where they squared off against UOC members in a debate that led to a deadlocked 20-20 vote of Dwight Hall’s board, with two abstentions. The measure needed a two-thirds majority to pass.