Friday, March 17, 2023

Opinion Page: Harvard, Boston, and Taxes


My oldest, aka "Dad's walking retirement plan," is almost done with her MBA.

From the Harvard Crimson, October 2022:

Many Harvard students may have heard, or even said, this infamous line before: “I go to a school just outside of Boston.” But being “just outside of Boston” doesn’t mean that Harvard has nothing to do with Boston. In fact, Harvard is one of the largest property owners in the city — without paying any property taxes.  Since 2011, however, under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, Boston has instead requested that nonprofit organizations with property holdings valued at upwards of $15 million — a designation which includes Harvard — voluntarily contribute 25 percent of the property taxes they are exempt from paying.

This year, like every year since PILOT’s inception, Harvard has failed to fully comply with Boston's PILOT request, contributing $10.8 million, which amounts to just 79 percent of the city’s recommended amount of $13.7 million. Additionally, less than half of Harvard’s contributions this year were actual financial disbursements: A total of $6.8 million was paid in “community benefits credits” — the estimated financial value of Harvard initiatives that are considered of benefit to Boston residents. Initiatives such as the Harvard Law School Pro Bono Program, summer academies for high schoolers, and the Arnold Arboretum fall under this category.

For an institution that prides itself on nurturing the next citizens and citizen-leaders, Harvard’s own ability to fulfill its civic duties is questionable. How can Harvard teach responsible leadership when it refuses to lead responsibly in the very communities it resides in? Unfortunately, our university is not alone in dropping the baton: Other nearby universities such as Tufts University, Boston University, and Boston College have also failed to satisfy their PILOT requests. Harvard, along with these peer institutions, should move to pay these dues in full in order to enrich the surrounding community.

Above all, we believe that the real scandal is that institutions as wealthy as Harvard can be tax-exempt for property ownership in the first place. The state of Massachusetts should take legislative action to ensure that Harvard pays a fair, standard property tax at the state level. The specific clauses of such legislation and the extent to which it should be extended to other institutions, of course, are up to actual legislators.

darryll jones

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