My parents between them have one degree from Columbia, one from Harvard, and two from the University of Michigan. They’re very smart people who have worked hard all their lives, and are now in the country’s highest tax bracket. They shouldn’t have to pay taxes, since this leaves them with no say as to where this money goes (other than, of course, casting their ballots on election day). Rather, they should provide grants to the government, saying what programs they want to fund, being allowed to create new ones, and pulling their money out if their wishes are not met.
At least, this is what Ward 1 aldermanic candidate Dan Kruger seems to be arguing, judging from the two debates he’s had with incumbent Ben Healey. He’s consistently embraced the same kind of “taxation punishes people for being rich, to the sole end of allowing the government to mire itself in red tape” rhetoric of Washington Republicans, who are expanding our country’s debt at an unprecedented rate. Criticizing Healey for supporting a resolution by the Board of Aldermen to increase Yale’s tax contribution from the properties on which it makes money, like parking lots (properties on which most non-profits like Yale are taxed), he suggested that Yale should just be allowed to continue doing what it already does: bestowing grants and programs on New Haven, to the benefit of both parties. Yale, as a non-profit institution, is tax-exempt. But whereas non-profits typically pay property taxes for those properties on which they make money, Yale in the past several years has ducked this responsibility.
Americans all agree that there should be no taxation without representation, but its reverse — representation without taxation — should not be tolerated, either. Noblesse oblige is not a democratic virtue. In a democracy, citizens and institutions pay taxes, and their elected leaders should decide how this money will best serve the community. As the biggest landowner and private-sector employer in New Haven, one of the richest institutions in the country, and a world leader in education, Yale should not build tax shelters in order to place itself above this laudable democratic principle. Charitable programs are great, and no one can argue that Yale’s programs have not done a lot to fix up New Haven, but the fact remains that they do not empower this community in the same way that taxes would because, unlike taxes, they can be discontinued on a whim. Citizens have the right to expect their governments to provide for the well-being of the community; they should not be required to ask for alms from private interests when they need help.
Yale’s contribution to the New Haven tax-base (a total contribution equal to one-third that of Harvard’s to Cambridge, a much richer city), then, has two primary effects on New Haven: one economic, one social. The economic effect is simple: New Haven needs a certain amount of money to function, to maintain its schools, police force, roads, social programs etc., and if almost none is coming from its largest property-owner, then businesses and citizens of this, one of the poorest cities in Connecticut, are forced to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden. When tax cuts are provided to the rich, the poor pay through their noses. Money is supposed to “trickle down” from rich to poor, but very little trickled down in the U.S. in the ’80s, and it clearly does not, now, in New Haven.
The social effect is, in many ways, much more sinister and a good deal more detrimental to the town-gown relations that Kruger purports to be so keen on improving: it leaves New Haven beholden to Yale in a paternalistic relationship that displays Yale’s might and hauteur towards the city, rather than its goodwill and willingness to act as a partner in this city’s development. It forces cash-strapped New Haven to beg from rich Yale for the money to which it is entitled — as the Board of Aldermen, including Healey, has already done.
Yale’s paternalistic attitude is arrogant and, moreover, ineffective. If Yale is truly interested in improving New Haven — from which its workforce is drawn and in which its students live and perform their extracurricular activities — it will go beyond installing bluephones and bringing to Broadway national chains (whose profits flee the city faster than a senior on graduation day, before they’ve had any time to trickle down); it will pay its taxes like a good citizen. That is the kind of town-gown relationship that I, for one, would like to see, and that is why, on November 4th, I will be voting for a candidate who will continue to fight to make sure that our city government has the funds it needs to make New Haven a stronger, cleaner, safer city with good schools, good jobs and good homes for all its residents.
Abigail Vladeck is a senior in Branford College.