May 12, 2014
Reporter's Notebook

CT's early graduation gift to private colleges

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
The University of Hartford's Shaw Center would have been subject to property taxes if the state eliminated levy exemptions for nonprofit colleges.

The rejection of a state lawmaker's proposal to subject private, nonprofit universities and hospitals to property taxes was met with a big sigh of relief from Hartford area colleges.

The University of Hartford, for example, would have faced an $8 million municipal tax bill for its West Hartford classroom, administration, research and athletics facilities and grounds, President Walter Harrison said.

Its West Hartford neighbor, the University of St. Joseph, would have been hit with a $1.5 million property-tax bill, a spokeswoman said.

USJ President Pamela Trotman Reid heads the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, whose members opposed the measure.

Harrison said he and the heads of the University of New Haven and Albertus Magnus College recently met with state House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, (D-Hamden), to vent their concerns about the impact of a property tax on their annual budgets. At that meeting, Harrison said, Sharkey acknowledged having second thoughts about taxing colleges and hospitals, and was preparing to back away from that portion of his proposal.

Days later, Sharkey's proposal was formally amended to reflect the change of heart. Instead, he pushed forward a bill, that received House approval but died in the Senate, that would subject college's off-campus expansions to local property taxes.

"The speaker was incredibly collegial,'' said UNH President Steven Kaplan, whose school would have been hit with a $5.1 million annual levy at a time when it's expanding its brand into California and the Middle East. "It's very hard for people to say, 'Oops, this wasn't a good idea.' That's what he did.''

Property-tax reform is expected to top the agenda of the 2015 legislative session.

— Gregory Seay

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