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New bill threatens Columbia and NYU’s longstanding property tax exemption

A proposed bill being presented in the New York state Legislature could force both Columbia University and New York University to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes if a longstanding property tax exemption enjoyed by the two private academic institutions is revoked. The bill would require the two universities to pay their property taxes to the City University of New York, the city’s public university system. The bill sponsor, Queens Assemblymember Zohran K. Mamdani, argues that it is time for these institutions to pay their dues to the working class of New York City.

The bill comes after an investigation revealed that Columbia and NYU avoided a combined $327 million in property taxes this year and that the universities are among the city’s largest private landowners. The proposed legislation also coincides with CUNY facing steep budget cuts, which Mayor Eric Adams’ administration is imposing on various essential city services to address the financial costs of the ongoing migrant crisis.

If successful, the bill will specifically target Columbia and NYU, leaving other local universities with property tax exemptions unscathed. The legislation is being backed by those who want to see more money go into the city’s public university system. James Davis, who heads the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), supports the legislation and sees the potential tax revenue as a way to address years of underfunding and deferred maintenance at CUNY. Other areas where the funds could benefit include more full-time faculty hires, academic advisors, mental health counselors, and other forms of student support.

Mamdani is confident that the bill has the support it needs from fellow state legislators to pass, although he expects that Columbia and NYU could resist the legislation. Both universities did not provide comments in response to requests for their stance on the matter. If the bill is approved, it could have significant financial implications for both Columbia and NYU while providing a much-needed financial boost to CUNY.

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