A familiar comment you hear relative to Scranton's never-ending march towards municipal bankruptcy was noted recently on a Facebook thread:
"I know I might get slapped down for this comment...but we need the University to start paying taxes. Look at the amount of properties they have amassed over the years..."
Now the issue about the University of Scranton having to pay property tax is complex, to say the least. As I understand it, the exemption technically resides at a state level, and is based on a 1985 court ruling (Hospital Utilization Project v. Commonwealth Pennsylvania), whereby there is a 5 point test to determine if an organization should be exempt from property tax. That test defines a public charity as an organization that:
• Advances a charitable purpose;
• Donates or renders gratuitously a substantial portion of its services;
• Benefits a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate objects of charity;
• Relieves the government of some of its burden; and
• Operates entirely free from private profit motive.
You could argue that the University of Scranton both does and doesn't meet the above test, but that's not my point. Rather, my point is this: To say that the law should be changed to allow for taxation of an organization like the University of Scranton creates more questions than it problems it solves (in my opinion). For example, if the University of Scranton has to pay taxes, what about Scranton Prep? What about the Hebrew Day School and every other private religious school? What about churches? An Atheist could easily argue that many churches in fact do far less for the community than the University of Scranton does. Do we want to just exempt small property owners, so that large property owners like the University are taxed? If so, how would the Diocese of Scranton, as a whole, be treated?
At the end of the day, I'm not arguing for or against taxing the University of Scranton, but rather what I'm saying is that a government simply can't single out one charitable organization for taxation without creating a whole host of other questions that need to be answered.
I will say the following though: The refrain of "Just tax the University of Scranton" is just another way to avoid dealing with what REALLY is the central issue facing the City of Scranton, namely incompetent leadership, a budgetary expense structure that has not changed along with the city's population, unrealistic (including pension promises made to employees that are simply impossible for the city to keep) compensation/benefits for city employees and a punitive tax structure.
When all is said and done, complex problems seldom are solved with sound-byte answers.