The issue: How much, if anything, do nonprofits owe the city of Pittsburgh?
The Pittsburgh Public Service Fund represents universities, hospitals, foundations, arts groups and nonprofit insurers. Pittsburgh City Council has a vote pending on a contract with the fund. As the Post-Gazette explains the contract:
Contributors would be exempt from any city efforts to "assess a tax or fee" on charitable institutions. The city also would be required to treat their requests for applications, permits, licenses and other approvals "no differently than those requested by for-profit or government entities," according to the contract.The nonprofits side is being presented in the media as: We don't OWE anything; the city is being ungrateful toward our generous donation (at a time when nonprofits face their own cutbacks); and the city is sticking it to groups like The Little Sisters of the Poor. The Post-Gazette chimed in to advise that City Council should take the money and run; calling it a "no-brainer."
Nonprofit organizations contacted yesterday would not say what they pledged, but emphasized their willingness to help.
UPMC Health System spokeswoman Jane Duffield said that UPMC had contributed $23 million to the city from 1989 to 2002.
During that time, many organizations made contributions to fend off city challenges to their nonprofit status. In 1997 the state reduced municipalities' ability to file such challenges.
In some impassioned speeches yesterday by members of the Pittsburgh City Council a different view was presented.
Councilman Bill Peduto said it was shameful for big corporations with lobbyists in Harrisburg making six figures to hide behind organizations like The Little Sisters of the Poor while these corporations enjoy the benefits of the city without paying taxes. He also noted that it was not the mayor or Council who had "penciled-in" the $33.5 million over five years that is at the heart of the dispute (the Fund has pledged $12.1 million over three years), but it was the Oversight Board who had set up that expectation for revenue.
While Councilman Doug Shields agreed that the bulk of the nonprofit money was to come from big corporations such as hospitals and universities and not meant to beg from the Red Cross or the The Little Sisters of the Poor, he had a different focus saying, "This council is not very happy right now with any of you -- whether it's Act 47 (state recovery team), Harrisburg assembly or whatever," adding, "We were given a (recovery) plan that assumes much and provides little, but we're having our feet held to the fire to the plan that has no revenue behind it. This plan has no basis to go forward."
Council President Gene Riccardi agreed with both Peduto and Shields but made it clear that he thought that a scheduled meeting with the nonprofits would be better postponed and that if Act 47 assumes revenue that will never come in then they need to replace that revune with another source.
So where does this all leave us?
At the risk of being a Master of the Obvious: IN A BIG HOLE.
It would seem to me that the large nonprofits are getting value for their contribution and I'm willing to believe that a UPMC would try to get the most "value" for the buck. So it would not shock me if they and others like them were not killing themselves to be overly "generous." And bringing up a name like "Little Sisters of the Poor" into the fray is pretty low when it's a UPMC (fiscal 2004 operating revenue base of $4.5 billion) vs. a city who IS THE POOR.
That said, if the recovery plan has imagainary sources of revenue in it then the state recovery team needs to go back to the drawing board and find some real cash -- and, no, they may not have the pennies from my jar on the shelf.
Nonprofits' donation to Pittsburgh falls short
Thursday, October 13, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Editorial: Take the gift / Council risks losing city help from nonprofits
Tuesday, October 18, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Nonprofits fire back after city snipes at fund donations
TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Tuesday, October 18, 2005
In Rebuttal: Pittsburgh's nonprofits are making a generous donation to the city
Wednesday, October 19, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Oversight board postpones city budget vote
TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Pittsburgh City Council Riccardi Peduto Doug Shields