David M. Simon elaborates on a point I’ve made before: wealthy non-profits like churches and universities shouldn’t be tax exempt.
Illinois is the land of special favors for those with lobbyists, connections or clout. Just look at the state’s property tax laws and the exemptions for rich nonprofits.
Retired homeowners living on fixed incomes pay hefty property taxes, despite the so-called “senior exemption.”
On the other hand, real estate owned by many rich nonprofits is completely exempt from property taxes. This includes private university campuses and their sports facilities, the gleaming skyscrapers of qualifying private hospitals and magnificent church cathedrals. And lots of other expensive real estate owned by other qualifying nonprofits. All completely exempt — and unfair.
Wealthy nonprofits with expensive real estate use and benefit from the same law enforcement, fire protection and other basic services as other property owners. These nonprofits may not principally use their real estate to make money, but neither do most families.
This system also dumps the hefty shares of the tax burden that these nonprofits should pay on the rest of us.
(click here to continue reading Abolish property tax exemptions for rich nonprofits – Chicago Tribune.)
What are these organizations doing for our society? Is it justified for them to be takers on the basis of whatever their so-called mission is? For instance, Scientology? Or college and professional sports stadiums? Not if I had a vote.
I had a 3 A.M. thought. Mayor Daley the Younger was bad for the city in a lot of ways1 but inarguably there was one aspect he was better at than the current administration: keeping the city gleaming, especially downtown, but everywhere really. Today, in many nooks and crannies of the city, there are mounds of McDonald’s wrappers, Starbucks coffee cups, cigarette butts, puddles of stale urine that haven’t been touched in years. Rain washes some of this detritus off the streets and sidewalks, but then it accumulates in stairways, alleys, and other locations. Nobody is power-washing the sidewalk, nobody is picking up the garbage that doesn’t make it into a garbage can.
What if in exchange for tax-exempt status, a non-profit had to adopt a city block and keep it clean? There could be some formula based on the annual financial report of the organization and the total number of city blocks. So the Heritage Foundation would be required to keep clean 5 blocks on the South Side somewhere near the Koch Brothers coal dust repository, while Northwestern Memorial Hospital would be responsible for 23 blocks in a cluster near Garfield Park. Or however the math works.
Impractical, unlikely, and unwieldily, like most 3 AM thoughts…Footnotes:
- enthusiastically privatizing city assets, allowing the police free rein to ride roughshod over civil liberties, frequently walking right up to the line of corruption, and even putting his toe over the line, and so on [↩]