New Haven Officials Back Bill to Update Tax Law for Universities

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp (D) and the Board of Alders held a press conference Tuesday afternoon in support of bill being considered by state lawmakers that would clarify which properties owned by colleges and universities should be subject to commercial property tax.

The bill is titled, An Act Concerning the Tax on College Property.

City officials say the law written in 1834 is outdated and too vague on specifying which of Yale University’s properties can be taxed and which should remain exempt.

“The law is not clear which of Yale's commercial properties should be taxable,” said Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker, “in practice a Yale property becomes taxable only when Yale agrees not to contest it."

Compared to 1901 when Yale covered 90 acres of New Haven, today it has grown to more than 1,000 acres.

In New Haven, Yale University has grown from 90 acres in 1901 to over 1,000 acres today.

"We are not trying to tax Yale's educational buildings, but Yale today is much more than just a small college," said Jacqueline James, director of the Small Business Service Center.

West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien (D) is also backing this bill. He said at the Yale West Campus, which the university bought from Bayer Pharmaceutical in 2008, researchers offer genetic testing to for-profit companies.

“We want education institutions here in West Haven,” he said, “but if they’re going to turn a profit and sell it to the private world, it should be taxed."

Mayor Harp said the bill is about promoting fair competition for small businesses that pay their fair share of taxes.

"We need a level playing field,” Harp said, “A tax code that gives cities the tools to generate the necessary revenue from all commercial properties fairly and equally."

A Yale spokesperson said the university pays taxes on all its non-academic buildings, adding the school is one of New Haven’s largest taxpayers.

State lawmakers need to hold a public hearing before the bill moves forward.

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