Both Columbia University and New York University could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes if state legislators are able to revoke a longstanding property tax exemption held by the two private academic institutions.
The bill – which will be presented on Tuesday in the state Legislature – would have the two universities pay their property taxes to the City University of New York, the city’s public university system.
“It is time that these institutions pay their debt to the working class of New York City,” Queens Assemblymember Zohran K. Mamdani, who is sponsoring the bill, told Gothamist on Sunday.
The proposed bill comes several months after a New York Times and the Hechinger Report investigation revealed that Columbia and NYU avoided a combined $327 million in property taxes this year. The two private universities are now among some of the city’s largest private landowners, according to the publications.
The proposed bill also comes as CUNY is facing steep budget cuts. Mayor Eric Adams’ administration is slashing the budget for myriad essential city services – including schools – as the city contends with the financial costs of the ongoing migrant crisis. The 5% mid-year cut is expected to “take a hatchet to the CUNY budget,” according to a statement last month from the Professional Staff Congress – the union that represents 30,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York and the CUNY Research Foundation.
If the proposed legislation is successful, it’ll specifically target both Columbia and NYU, but leave other local universities that also receive property tax exemptions unscathed, the Queens Assemblymember said. Mamdani said he would introduce the bill in the Assembly while State Sen. John C. Liu, from Queens, will introduce its equivalent in the Senate.
The legislation is being heralded by those who want to see more money go into the city’s public university system, including James Davis, who heads the PSC.
“The union definitely supports this legislation strongly – we feel like it’s long past due,” he said.
He said the money could go towards rectifying “years of underfunding and years of deferred maintenance on the physical structure of the university.”
He also said he’d like to see more full-time faculty hires and more academic advisors, mental health counselors and other forms of student support.
Mamdani said he was confident that the bill has the support it needs from fellow state legislators to pass. However, he did foresee that Columbia and NYU could put up a fight in the near future.
“Though it is a long journey ahead of us to amend the [state] constitution, it is a journey that we will see an ever expanding coalition surmount,” he said.
Both NYU and Columbia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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