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County Controller Says Nonprofits Should Pay Up

The controller for Allegheny County, Pa. said yesterday that, in light of the higher taxes residents are seeing, nonprofits should be forced to give up their tax-exempt status.

According to a report in The Tribune-Review, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner made the statement Monday in what was billed a “taxpayer alert.” “Residents are seeing their taxes go up and their services go down,” Wagner said in the alert. “We’re saying the free riders need to be held accountable.” Wagner estimated the county could raise $95 million by taxing around 26,500 tax-exempt parcels. 

Under Wagner’s proposal, nonprofits that want to keep their tax-exemption to send an application to the Office of Property Assessments every year, explaining why the deserve a tax break under the state’s charities law. Despite her strong push for change, state officials seem skeptical that such a law could be passed. State Senator Wayne Fontanta (D-Brookline), said he received almost no support when he introduced a bill that would have allowed local governments to tax nonprofits on the value of their land, and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald questioned why Wagner did not introduce the plan she is proposing when she was a state representative from 2007 to 2012.

Wagner specifically singled out five organizations in Allegheny County: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, West Penn Allegheny Health System,  and Duquesne University. A UPMC spokeswomen responded to Wagner’s report by saying that nonprofit medical and education organizations have driven the economic recovery in Western Pennsylvania, and that UPMC has contributed its fair share to the county. The medical center paid $176 million in federal and state employment taxes last year, in addition to contributing $565 million in charity and uncompensated care.

You can read the full report in The Tribune Review.

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