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REPAIR – Repeal Egregious Property Accumulation and Invest it Right Bills

Legislators Launch State Bills to End $321 Million Yearly Property Tax Exemptions for Columbia and NYU

The cumulative real property tax breaks cost the state over $321M yearly: legislation would funnel this revenue to fund perpetually underfunded CUNY schools.

Photos from REPAIR Bills Press Conference December 12, 2023 by Paul Frangipane Photos from REPAIR Bills Press Conference December 12, 2023 by Paul Frangipane Photos from REPAIR Bills Press Conference December 12, 2023 by Paul Frangipane Photos from REPAIR Bills Press Conference December 12, 2023 by Paul Frangipane Photos from REPAIR Bills Press Conference December 12, 2023 by Paul Frangipane Photos from REPAIR Bills Press Conference December 12, 2023 by Paul Frangipane Photos from REPAIR Bills Press Conference December 12, 2023 by Paul Frangipane Photos from REPAIR Bills Press Conference December 12, 2023 by Paul Frangipane

At Columbia University on Tuesday, December 12, the PSC joined state lawmakers to unveil legislation which would end property tax exemptions for private universities who had over $100 million written off their tax bill in the last fiscal year. The bill would impact Columbia University, which is the largest private land-holder in New York City and would have had to pay $179 million last year if taxed, as well as New York University, which would have had to pay $142 million. The bills would direct the revenue toward funding the City University of New York (CUNY).

State Senator John Liu and Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani introduced the first-of-its-kind bill in the state legislature.

“At a time when CUNY faces budget cut after budget cut and is in a constant state of disrepair, Columbia and NYU—2 of the largest property holders in NYC—are exempted from paying property taxes. It’s time that these institutions pay their debts to the working class of New York City,” said Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, member of the State Assembly’s Real Property Taxation Committee who is introducing the bill in the State Assembly.

State Senator John Liu, Member of the Senate Committees on Higher Education, Finance, and Judiciary, stated, “Tax breaks put in place hundreds of years ago to support small nonprofit causes are today imposing far greater costs on the public treasury all the while providing diminishing benefit and possibly creating perverse incentives. These tax exemptions for large universities, who have great ability to pay their fair share, must be reconsidered in light of the current structural deficit in the city’s budget, and it makes perfect sense to direct these subsidies instead to public education here in New York.”

As the current real property tax exemption is enshrined in the New York state constitution, the first piece of legislation will need to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions to amend the constitution, before a state referendum on the bill. A second bill will need to be passed to repeal the exemption at the $100m yearly threshold and to direct revenues to CUNY.

“CUNY represents both the rich diversity and possibility New York City offers with an undergrad body that is 80% students of color and nearly 50% first generation. Unfortunately, CUNY is also facing repeated patterns of disinvestment and serious financial challenges while some of the City’s wealthiest private institutions expand their campuses’ tax-free footprints. The legislation proposed by Senator Liu and Assemblymember Mamdani will balance these two inequities by leveraging the vast resources of our private universities to help fund CUNY and create a sustainable, more democratic higher education environment for all New York City students,” said NYC Comptroller Brad Lander.

Senator Cordell Cleare stated, “I wholeheartedly support this legislation which represents the simple, yet singularly important issue of equity, both in terms of our tax policy and higher education investment and opportunity. Columbia’s endowment is nearly $14 billion dollars yet they do not pay a penny of property tax despite their unyielding quest to acquire even more precious space on the northern end of the island of Manhattan, which has had innumerable disastrous consequences for the people I represent. Contributing to our tax base and saving true institutions of public service and learning is the least they can do.”

CUNY, an engine of opportunity and economic mobility for New Yorkers is crumbling and perpetually underfunded. CUNY educates New Yorkers from racially and economically diverse backgrounds – more than 80% of freshmen attended NYC public schools, 80% of undergraduates are students of color and 43% are first generation students, and 50% of undergraduates are from families that earn less than $30,000 per year – and “propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined.” Nonetheless, 300 unfilled faculty and staff positions have been eliminated, and only 8% of CUNY buildings are in good repair.

“New York has it twisted! Barred by state law from making wealthy, private universities like NYU and Columbia pay their fair share of property taxes, the city balances its budget by inflicting austerity on CUNY, the working people’s public university. Mayor Adams just cut CUNY again last month! With multi-billion-dollar endowments, tuition rates twice the typical CUNY student’s annual family income, and vast holdings of the most valuable real estate in the world, NYU and Columbia can easily afford to pay their taxes. And Albany can make it happen by ending the property tax exemption for the wealthiest private colleges.” said James Davis, President of the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing faculty and staff at the City University of New York.

“The right to a high quality and fully funded education should not only be granted to a select few with exceptional grades, to those who are able to afford paying almost six figures a year for a degree, to those who descend from legacy families. A high quality and fully funded education should be granted to all those who want it: working class students, immigrant students, first generation students, students who didn’t get perfect grades or didn’t have access to educational resources due to systemic issues. These bills are one of the first steps in making education in New York City equitable for everyone,” said Johanna Von Maack, a Hunter College student.

Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell said, “New York residents have been shouldering the costs of these universities’ tax-exempt status for far too long. It is high time for Columbia University and New York University to take responsibility for their extensive property holdings and contribute more equitably to our state and local communities. The proposed legislation aims not only to mitigate the financial strain on New Yorkers but also to ensure that both Columbia University and New York University contribute their fair share towards the collective welfare of our communities and improve the lives of millions of New Yorkers.”

“Columbia University and NYU are two of the wealthiest universities on this planet. The idea that these institutions are not somehow driven by profit, seek profit, or make profits belies the fact that they have an over $20 billion endowment. Letting these institutions off a $320 million tax hook is modern day Robinhood, but in reverse; the city delivers free public services to a very rich institution that gives nothing back. I unequivocally support the repeal of NYU and Columbia’s tax exemption status in order to reinvest back into our CUNY system,” said Assembly Member Ron Kim.

“Private universities like Columbia and NYU enjoy over $320 million in annual tax exemptions, while public institutions like CUNY struggle for funding. These universities prioritize property accumulation over education, with Columbia’s tax break even exceeding Yankee Stadium’s. Despite substantial endowments, Columbia and NYU keep expanding property holdings, thanks to their tax-exempt status, giving them an unfair real estate advantage. They benefit from city services funded by property taxes while avoiding their own tax responsibilities, draining essential municipal resources. CUNY faces budget cuts, jeopardizing services and education quality. Our legislation repeals these tax exemptions, redirecting $321 million to CUNY for equitable education. It’s time to share the wealth!” said Assembly Member Al Taylor.

“While CUNY struggles through decades of systematic underfunding, some of the city’s largest landlords aren’t paying a penny in property taxes. The combined endowments of NYU and Columbia are $20 billion; piling on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax exemptions is highway robbery. I’m proud to support this common sense legislation to bring fairness to our property tax system and give CUNY the resources it needs to serve its proud public mission,” said Assembly Member Emily Gallagher.

“It’s unconscionable that while our public institutions, including public schools, are facing budget cuts, private one that can afford to pay their fair share in taxes aren’t doing so. This is about fairness and education equity for hard working New Yorkers,” said Assembly Member Manny De Los Santos.

“Our city’s resources should eliminate inequalities and invest in future generations, not be gifted to well-endowed private institutions to help grow their coffers,” said Assemblymember Grace Lee. “My colleagues and I are calling on Columbia and NYU to fulfill their civic responsibility to New York City by paying their fair share of property taxes, including the approximately $321 million in exemptions they currently receive every year. For decades, our city has generously helped these universities grow, and now it is time for them to reciprocate. By reinvesting these funds into CUNY, we will foster a more equitable educational landscape for all New Yorkers.”

“ I welcome the support of elected officials to fund public higher education in an equitable, fair and just way. Any innovative initiatives and investments that are done this way will support the University. However, it is important to note that the years of Budget Cuts that CUNY has been facing, still calls for a fully funded CUNY by the state legislature. I call on the state to step up to ensure that CUNY students get a quality education, get the resources they need to succeed, are not food insecure anymore and can afford basic necessities,” said Salimatou Doumbouya, Trustee and Chairperson of CUNY University Student Senate.



The idea for the REPAIR bills traces back to testimony delivered by then PSC President Barbara Bowen and First Vice President Mike Fabricant at a 2018 hearing of the City Council speaker’s NYC Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform. See video of the PSC testimony.


Published: December 12, 2023 | Last Modified: December 13, 2023

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