Demanding a greater contribution from Yale to local government, a group of students announced the formation of the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition Thursday in front of Woodbridge Hall.
In a press conference attended by about 35 students, the coalition called on the University to pay “voluntary taxes” to the New Haven government to make up for a gap in city revenues its members said were due to Yale’s exemption from most local taxation. Citing recent property tax hikes and the condition of local public schools, the group said in a letter it presented to Yale President Richard Levin that the University had an obligation to strengthen its commitment to the Elm City.
“Part of the reason services New Haven offers aren’t as good as they could be is because of my university, Yale University,” said Marissa Levendis ’07, a leader of the coalition. “We are not going to sit idly by and watch Yale be an irresponsible citizen at the expense of our city.”
The coalition includes the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and the Social Justice Network as well as several groups less commonly associated with the issue of town-gown relations, like Yale Peace and the Coalition to End the Death Penalty.
Yale, like other colleges and universities in Connecticut, is exempt under state law from paying taxes on educational property, but the issue of the University’s tax status has been a long-standing point of debate in New Haven politics. In recent months, Yale’s taxes — and in particular, a 1834 law that exempts from taxation all Yale property earning less than $6,000 in income, regardless of its purpose — have been the subject of discussion in both the Connecticut General Assembly and the New Haven Board of Aldermen.
While the coalition’s members said Thursday that they did not want to set an exact figure, their letter to Levin called for a contribution that would close what it called “the $12.8 million gap between what Yale owns and what New Haven receives in tax revenue.” Levin was not available for comment last night.
University Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand, however, said the coalition fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the city’s revenue problems.
“The question is why a small group thinks their university, which is one of a few institutions that already makes a voluntary contribution, should be specifically targeted and forced to pay 500 percent more than any other university,” Morand said. “This partisan press bid is based on the fundamentally flawed assumption that our nonprofit university is a burden to the city and its budget. The facts conclusively demonstrate otherwise.”
Morand also noted that both New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo have rejected the argument that Yale is responsible for shortfalls in the city’s public schools. While the coalition cited Yale’s property tax exemptions as a burden on the city’s educational system, state funding — not local property taxes — comprise most of New Haven’s education budget.
Coalition members, however, said the University could make a significant contribution to the city by contributing one day’s interest on its $11 billion endowment, a move they said would help create a stronger partnership between Yale and the New Haven community.
“We stand united here today on an issue of relationships and responsibility,” said Emerson Davis ’06, speaking on behalf of the Black Student Alliance at Yale. “Yale must show a greater responsibility to New Haven and its citizens.”
The coalition’s leaders said they would closely watch political developments surrounding Yale’s tax exemptions, but the group’s primary focus will be on mobilizing support on the Yale campus for a voluntary contribution. Earlier this year, a bill that would modify Yale’s tax status under state law died in a General Assembly committee, while the newly formed New Haven Revenue Commission is expected to examine the policies surrounding Yale’s exemptions.
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