May 15, 2010; Source: Guelph Mercury | Canadian citizens are debating property tax exemptions for nonprofit or public universities. This op-ed suggests that the exemption enjoyed by the University of Guelph has a deleterious effect on the community’s ability to lure business and industrial companies.

The writer’s theory is that the university’s tax exemption places a greater burden on private property owners who are responsible for 84 percent of the city’s tax revenues. It’s an odd theory. Most businesses are attracted to communities with universities providing an educated workforce of young people. The writer’s political orientation is revealed when he decries the city’s rejection of a WalMart proposal that was rejected by the “pro-environmental” city government in 2006 and 2008 only to be approved later by “cooler heads.”

One can easily infer that some of the pro-environmental crowd might have had a relationship with the university’s “huge” student population. The fact is that tax exemption or not, for businesses a more educated potential labor force is a big selling point. We suspect that companies might actually be more interested in the quality of the workforce than the question of how much of a payment in lieu of taxes the local university might pay.—Rick Cohen