Nonprofit Newswire | A Columnist Shows Her Toga

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September 13, 2010; Source: Baltimore Sun | This kind of attack on nonprofits is to be expected in general, though one would think that a public policy expert would catch one point that this Baltimore Sun columnist missed.  The columnist, Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, contends that in Baltimore, “many empty units are now expensive monuments to an economic development strategy that has given breaks to a few well connected developers and to nonprofits at the expense of business, jobs, people—and tax dollars.”

No, the city has not “given” tax breaks to well connected nonprofits.  Nonprofits using property for nonprofit, charitable purposes are tax exempt by definition and therefore, in theory and law, do not have to apply for tax breaks (and properties they may own and use for commercial, profit-making purposes are not tax exempt). The Baltimore City Council doesn’t give out exemptions to nonprofit property owners.

She could question, as Sun columnist Jay Hancock does, whether nonprofit colleges and hospitals such as Baltimore’s largest property owner, Johns Hopkins University (including its hospital in East Baltimore), are really the same as other nonprofits or whether they should be treated differently. (Some think that nonprofit hospitals and colleges may warrant a different tax status, not for-profit, but not the same as “typical” public charities.)

But the writer’s attack on nonprofit property owners seems to be something of a camouflage for an attack on nonprofits themselves and the policies that lead to support nonprofit programs.  She contends, without citing a source, that every tax-paying household in Baltimore “shoulders the burden for nearly $75,000 of exempt property,” which of course could mean nonprofit property or for-profit developments that have been given discretionary tax abatements and exemptions.

Her ideological toga becomes apparent when she takes the Baltimore City Council to task for its “failed tax and spend policies,” contends that “public and housing have historically meshed like public and toilet,” suggests selling “as much city-owned property as possible” with proceeds to be placed in a trust fund to “buy down the tax rate” and “bring people and business back to [the] city limits.”  That’s not an attack on nonprofits, but on government, on public programs, and on social welfare.—Rick Cohen