Columbia and N.Y.U. would lose $327 million in tax breaks below proposal


New York state lawmakers will unveil laws on Tuesday that might get rid of huge property tax breaks for Columbia College and New York College, which have expanded to turn into amongst New York Metropolis’s prime 10 largest personal property house owners.

The payments would require the personal universities to start out paying full annual property taxes and for that cash to be redistributed to the Metropolis College of New York, the biggest city public college system within the nation.   

Columbia and N.Y.U. collectively saved $327 million on property taxes this yr. The quantity the colleges save yearly has soared in current a long time as the 2 have purchased extra properties, and the worth of their properties has additionally elevated.

Repealing the tax breaks would face substantial obstacles. The exemptions — which apply to universities, museums and different nonprofits — are almost 200 years previous and a part of the state structure. Overriding them would imply lawmakers must undertake the adjustments in consecutive legislative classes. Then, voters must approve them on a statewide poll.

“When the structure of the state was written, there was no concept that such an exemption might apply to 2 of the highest landlords in New York Metropolis,” mentioned Assemblyman Zohran Okay. Mamdani, a Queens Democrat who’s introducing the invoice within the Meeting. “This invoice seeks to deal with universities which have so blatantly gone past primarily working as establishments of upper training and are as a substitute performing as landlords and builders.”

The proposed constitutional modification follows an investigation by The Hechinger Report and The New York Occasions in September that exposed that town’s wealthiest universities had been greater and richer than ever earlier than, with huge actual property portfolios which have drained town finances – and that as Columbia has grown to turn into town’s largest personal landowner, it has enrolled fewer college students from New York Metropolis.

Associated: ‘The Untouchables’: How Columbia and N.Y.U. profit from property tax breaks

A Columbia spokeswoman mentioned college officers had been reviewing the laws. However she added that Columbia was a driver of town’s economic system by its analysis, school and college students, and its capital initiatives, together with $100 million in upgrades to native infrastructure since 2009.

A spokesman for N.Y.U. mentioned that repealing the tax exemptions could be “terribly disruptive” and that the college “could be compelled to rethink a lot of the best way we function.”

“To decide on two charitable, nonprofit organizations out of the 1000’s within the state and compel them to be handled like for-profits actually strikes us as misguided and unfair,” the spokesman, John Beckman, mentioned in an announcement. “We’re deeply appreciative of these insurance policies, which have been in place for 2 centuries, however we additionally take some modest satisfaction within the many, some ways, small and enormous, that N.Y.U. contributes to town’s well-being and its economic system.”

All 50 states supply property tax exemptions for personal, nonprofit entities, which supporters argue are essential in order that these organizations can present social, financial and cultural advantages to their communities. However in some cities, officers have pressured personal universities to make voluntary funds, often called funds in lieu of taxes, or comparable annual donations. Non-public universities typically have billion-dollar endowments and cost annual tuition within the excessive 5 figures.

The laws would solely apply to Columbia and N.Y.U. and never different massive personal universities that personal important land, comparable to Cornell College in Ithaca. Lawmakers mentioned that different universities could be excluded as a result of their tax breaks are far decrease than these of Columbia and N.Y.U.; the annual actual property tax exemption threshold could be $100 million.

“This invoice seeks to deal with universities which have so blatantly gone past primarily working as establishments of upper training and are as a substitute performing as landlords and builders.”

Assemblyman Zohran Okay. Mamdani, a Queens Democrat who’s introducing the invoice within the Meeting.

“I don’t fault these establishments for pursuing their tax breaks and utilizing the tax breaks to significantly increase their empires,” mentioned State Senator John C. Liu, a Queens Democrat who’s introducing the laws within the Senate. “However it is a level the place we’ve to look the place all revenues are coming from and the place all revenues are leaking. We now have to cease these leaks.”

Town is going through a sequence of finances cuts to Okay-12 faculties, libraries and police, amongst different packages, partially, Mayor Eric Adams has mentioned, due to rising prices to take care of an inflow of homeless migrants.

CUNY, which is made up of 25 campuses all through town and which serves 225,000 college students, has additionally been eyed for metropolis cuts. A lot of the college’s $4.3 billion finances is offered by the state, however earlier this yr, the mayor proposed a 3 p.c minimize to the funding town offers.

Associated: Activists query whether or not rich univdersities ought to be exempt from property taxes

If the constitutional modification had been permitted, the property tax funds could be directed yearly to CUNY. That might make a big distinction within the high quality of training college students obtain, mentioned James C. Davis, the president of the Skilled Employees Congress, which represents 30,000 CUNY school and workers.

“Would an extra infusion of working funding have an effect on retention and commencement charges?” Mr. Davis mentioned. “Clearly the reply is sure. Even a comparatively small sum of money would make a giant distinction.”

He famous that 80 p.c of first-year CUNY college students are graduates of New York Metropolis public faculties, and a majority are college students of coloration. Half come from households with incomes below $30,000 a yr.

“Should you’re speaking concerning the metropolis making a dedication to financial fairness and social mobility,” Mr. Davis added, “there actually shouldn’t be a wiser funding than CUNY.”

This story was produced in collaboration with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit information outlet that covers training. Hechinger is an unbiased unit at Lecturers Faculty, Columbia College.

The Hechinger Report offers in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on training that’s free to all readers. However that does not imply it is free to provide. Our work retains educators and the general public knowledgeable about urgent points at faculties and on campuses all through the nation. We inform the entire story, even when the small print are inconvenient. Assist us preserve doing that.

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