January 10, 2002
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When the House Government Reform Committee was investigating the Clinton fundraising scandals, the New York Times wrote an editorial under the headline, "A House Investigation Travesty." The editorial, which ran on April 12, 1997, said of the committee's chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, "His odd obsession with the suicide of Vincent Foster led him to stage a mock shooting in his backyard trying to prove that the White House lawyer had been murdered. His dubious choice for chief investigator in the campaign finance inquiry is David Bossie, a 31-year-old non-lawyer who has spent much of his professional life zealously working to discredit President Clinton. So much for balance."
So it's pretty amusing to see Times reporters openly trolling for news tips on a Web site zealously working to discredit President Bush. The Web site yesterday featured an article under the headline, "The Man Who Knew Too Much: Who Killed John O'Neill." The article implies through innuendo that the Bush administration killed a former FBI official on September 11: "What CNN didn't find interesting was the fact that John P. O'Neill was in his 34th-floor office in the World Trade Tower when the first of two hijacked planes hit the building, or that he phoned a son and a friend to reassure them he was fine. What the US media have apparently found less interesting than the death of Clinton's dog is that we have only the government's version of what happened next. O'Neill is reported to have called FBI headquarters, and then re-entered one of the towers to help others. The official story is that O'Neill was inside when the buildings collapsed. How convenient for the Bush administration that Mr. O'Neill would not only die in the attack, but also that he would make such a call. Not only was the Bush administration's most dangerous critic forever silenced, but he also provided the administration the perfect story to explain his death."
This sort of stuff makes Mr. Burton's backyard shooting look only mildly eccentric. Yet right there next to it, under "today's announcement," is the text, "I am a New York Times reporter working on stories about Enron. If you have information or documents about the way Enron structured its off-balance sheet partnerships, paid its top executives, or accounted for gains and losses on its trades, I would very much like to talk to you. Please call me at [New York Times email address and direct-dial phone line deleted by Smartertimes.com]."
Now, neither news sources nor newspaper reporters should necessarily be held to the same standards as congressional investigators. And, in general, newspapers should be judged by their content, not by how savory or unsavory the characters are that a reporter deals with during the newsgathering process. Still, given all the sneering that the Times columnists and editorial writers did at the rabid conspiracy theorists on the right back in the days of Vincent Foster, it's funny to see the Times diving in with the rabid conspiracy theorists on the left in search of scoops on the Enron story.
News Article: An original, non-New York-Times-related news article follows: Universities May Be Tempting Target for City in Search of Revenue
By RACHEL P. KOVNER
As in most states, in New York, colleges are exempt from property taxes on land they use for their non-profit missions. But while many local governments have demanded payments in lieu of taxes from universities for the government services they use, in New York City the in-lieu-of-taxes collector hasn't come knocking.
The universities represent an untapped source of potential city revenue that could be a tempting target for the Bloomberg administration as it seeks to close a budget deficit that is estimated at $4 billion. New York's colleges have prospered in the past eight years, drawing record numbers of applications and record fundraising totals as crime has dropped and schools have placed greater emphasis on their links to the city. And, unlike some businesses and residents who may decamp to New Jersey, Connecticut or elsewhere if New York increases taxes, it's not as if NYU or Columbia could threaten credibly to leave.
Some watchers of city government would like to see New York seek more revenue from its universities.
"There are a number of institutions that are not contributing their fair share," said Harvey Robins, an official in the Dinkins and Koch administrations who has urged the city to seek greater revenue from non-profits. "What I think has happened in the city is that over the years there have been stakeholders that have said, 'Don't touch me.' The basic feeling from Koch to Dinkins to Giuliani, was these are not areas we're going to ask for contributions from."
A Bloomberg spokesman did not return a call yesterday seeking comment on the issue.
Aside from an annual payment to the city from Columbia University because one of its buildings rests on government-owned land, payments in lieu of taxes weren't made last year by any of the New York City schools with endowments of more than $100 million: Columbia, Rockefeller University, New York University, Yeshiva University, Fordham University, Cooper Union and Barnard College. Nor were they made by the New School for Social Research, Juilliard School, Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute or Marymount Manhattan College.
No major study has tracked how common payments in lieu of taxes are, but the New York schools are getting off easily compared to colleges in some other areas.
Harvard University has signed agreements to pay $40 million to Boston and $40 million to Cambridge over the next 20 years. Emerson College, MIT and Northeastern also make the payments, as do Ithaca, N.Y.-based Cornell and Des Moines-based Drake University.
Jefferson Burnett, director of government relations for the National Association of Independent Schools, said his group has heard of more and more communities requesting payments from local colleges starting in the mid-1990s.
Evelyn Brody, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law who is writing a book on payments in lieu of taxes, said the agreements vary widely from institution to institution and are hard to track because they are often negotiated in secret. In a single town, she said, "one charity might be making a contribution and the other wouldn't know. It's that ad hoc."
The city does get payments in lieu of taxes from some organizations, with about $157 million in revenue from the payments projected for the 2002 fiscal year. But much of that revenue comes from tax-incentive arrangements like the one at Columbia's Audubon Biomedical Science and Technology Park, where payments are made in exchange for the right to develop on government-owned land.
Columbia has not been asked to make payment on the land it owns and uses for non-commercial purposes, said university spokeswoman Anne Bayne.
Universities nationwide have argued that their special social mission justifies their property-tax exemption, and that they aid the community by employing local residents and producing well-educated graduates who draw tax-paying businesses to the area. Local governments respond that universities still incur costs by using city services like police, fire, sanitation and street repair.
Robert Fitch, whose 1993 book "The Assassination of New York" estimated that non-profits owned six percent of New York's then-$400 billion in property, now estimates that non-profit land is worth far more due to rising property values and major building campaigns by schools like NYU.
He said he believed lobbying by colleges and other non-profits makes it hard for the city to demand payments.
"New York City has the biggest non-profit sector in the world," he said. "It has an enormous amount of clout."
But Joan M. Youngman, a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass., said payments in lieu of taxes wouldn't do much to fatten the budget of a city as large as New York.
"It's in the small areas that the schools will be a big part of the potential tax base," Ms. Youngman said. "In a place like New York, the size of everything diminishes the impact of one institution."
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