May 1, 2010; Source: Boston Herald | There’s often lots of truth in snarky humor. Editors at the Boston Herald seem to be unimpressed with Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s current scavenger hunt through nonprofit-owned properties for “voluntary” payments in lieu of taxes.

While they sometimes feel less than comfortable with the nonprofitness of some of the big universities and big cultural institutions that populate Boston, the editors suggest that the mayor might want to consider asking City Hall and the State House for voluntary PILOTs, since the land they occupy is as valuable as any in the city, and they consume no less quantities of services than nonprofit land owners (remember, many nonprofits provide specific services supplanting the need for municipal provision of many services, such as universities and hospitals providing their own police forces and contracting for garbage renewal).

We’ve written recently about the Canadian principles and calculations regarding federal government institutions making PILOTs, especially a court decision meant to lead to a more consistent formula for the feds to pay their local government hosts. That might be a model worth exploring south of the 49th Parallel.

The Herald adds one more point about the rather involuntary voluntary payments being foisted onto nonprofits—that nonprofits don’t have much latitude for challenging the city’s request—”at least, not if they expect to secure permits for that new wing someday.” Don’t think that that political dynamic isn’t possible. It is. Menino and his colleagues in the inverted pyramid they use for Boston City Hall are trying to come up with a consistent formula that would apply to nonprofit property owners, removing the politicized case by case nature of PILOT negotiations that currently exist, but not at all affecting the city’s politicized redefinition of “voluntary” as all but “mandatory”.—Rick Cohen