In his column “Math won’t add up in proposed PILOT cuts,” (3/5) Michael Morand, associate vice president of New Haven and State Affairs, declared that State Senate Bill 454, then being debated in Hartford on the issue of clarifying Yale’s “super tax-exemption” was actually an effort by New Haven state representatives, some aldermen and the Connecticut Center for a New Economy to cut the Connecticut State PILOT — Payment in Lieu of Taxes — to New Haven. In fact, at Hartford on Monday, March 1, representatives of the above groups — as well as six undergraduates — advocated a bill that would have done nothing of the sort. As one of the undergraduates who encountered Morand in Hartford, I’d like to set the record straight.
SB 454, which was defeated in committee, did not even mention the phrase “PILOT.” In fact, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, New Haven’s own State Representative Toni Walker declared in her 3/16 New Haven Register op-ed, “I do not advocate nor want to see a cut in PILOT money to our city.” And the facts of the bill, which merely attempted to clarify the 1836 law that prohibits taxation of any Yale property earning an annual income of less the $6,000 by defining the word “income” so that Yale facilities that combine for profit and not-for-profit activities are not completely tax-exempt (for example, doctor’s offices), completely support Rep. Walker’s statement. However, in light of SB 454’s defeat, I do not wish to dwell on the particulars of that bill. Instead, I would like to discuss the PILOT program and the issue of Yale’s super-tax exemption.
SB 454 was one step in a fight to make Yale a more responsible citizen of New Haven. It is a fight about budget deficits, under-funded public schools and a relationship between a city and its largest employer and one of its most prominent citizens. It is a fight about us as Yale students and the students that we tutor or teach when we volunteer in New Haven’s schools. It is a fight about how our university, of which we the students are the conscience, relates to our town.
How is that fight won? By Yale’s paying its fair share of taxes. Yale is a great member of the New Haven community — our university donates millions of dollars to our community. But Yale is a poor citizen of New Haven. A good citizen is not someone who is simply a great volunteer, but someone who performs all their civic duties responsibly. And one of the most fundamental civic duties that we have is to pay taxes. I’m not suggesting that Yale doesn’t pay taxes ($2.5 million plus a $2.2 million voluntary contribution a year), but when taxes for the rest of New Haven’s citizens are rising for the third year in a row, it is irresponsible of Yale, as a citizen of New Haven, to continue to reject paying taxes on income-earning properties (not on, for example, residential colleges, but on, for example, doctor’s offices) because of a law passed in 1834. So as long as our university continues as it does today, it will remain an irresponsible citizen. But Morand claims that making Yale be a responsible citizen would result in a plethora of negative consequences for everyone. Let me address some of his concerns.
If Yale were to pay taxes on mixed-use income-earning property, New Haven would not somehow lose money by having PILOT funds revoked on newly taxed property. The conclusion is not logical. For every dollar that a Yale doctor’s office should be paying in taxes but does not, Connecticut citizens (including those same New Haven citizens whose taxes are rising), hypothetically pay New Haven $0.77 through Connecticut PILOT programs, although in reality, because the Connecticut budget is being cut continuously, they’re paying about $0.62. If that doctor’s office were put on the tax roles, New Haven would receive $1.00 from Yale and Connecticut citizens could keep their $0.62.
In addition, I’d like to state that I find it personally offensive that an associate vice president of an institution with an $11-billion endowment would characterize $6 million as financial-aid benefits and staff-position payments. Our university has an $11-billion endowment. $6 million is .055 percent of Yale’s endowment. If my parents were required to pay more taxes and they had $11 billion in assets, would they choose to pay the taxes out of my college-tuition fund or from the money in the bank? It is a question of integrity. I know how my parents would respond; unfortunately, I’m not confident of my university’s response.
Attempting to make Yale pay taxes on property where profit is earned is not an attempt to punish Yale for New Haven’s problems. It is not an attempt to cut PILOT funding. It is not an attempt to bring to the surface “adversity left behind three decades ago”. It is an attempt to make Yale a more responsible citizen of its city and give its city an improved ability to fund basic services. SB 454 may have been defeated a week ago, but the fight for Yale to pay its fair share is not going away. If Morand wants to help his city, than he will join those of us who advocate for a greater fair-share payment to the city from Yale and an increased PILOT payment from the state.
Marissa Levendis is a freshman in Calhoun College.