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February 07, 2012 11:00 AM Taxing Brown

By Daniel Luzer

Large portions of America’s upper middle class would probably not even know that Providence, Rhode Island existed if it weren’t for Brown University, the hyper-liberal Ivy League college that is the alma mater of so much of the spawn of American celebrities.

But apparently mere name recognition is not enough to protect the 250-year-old institution from the struggles of municipal financing.

Providence is going bankrupt. According to an Associated Press article by Erika Niedowski:

Mayor Angel Taveras painted a bleak picture Thursday of the city’s finances, saying Providence faces “devastation” and could go bankrupt if retiree benefits aren’t cut and tax-exempt institutions like Brown University don’t pay more in lieu of taxes.
The mayor said he wants the Ivy League university to make an additional $40 million in payments over 10 years. According to the city, Brown owns more than $1 billion in property that would bring an estimated $38 million to Providence if it were taxed as a private entity.

But, of course, Brown isn’t a company. And so Brown can’t leave the city.

“Everyone must sacrifice or everyone will suffer the consequences,” the mayor said at a press conference. “We need everyone to be part of the solution.” Taveras was joined by the governor, Lincoln Chaffee, who earned a B.A. in Classics from Brown in 1975 and was a professor at the university between 2007 and 2011.

It’s unclear if the mayor also plans to extract voluntary payments from other nonprofits in the city like, say, the Diocese of Providence.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer