Letters: Why Should Princeton Residents Subsidize Wealthy Institutions?

princeton letter_2To the Editor:

In my experience, when presented with a complicated situation, such as the determination of the local property tax status of various Princeton University facilities, it is often helpful to step back and reassess the situation in the current context.

In this case I am at a loss to explain why a moderately sized community should be compelled to provide a significant financial subsidy (local property tax exemption) to an already well endowed institution that provides its’ services to individuals and institutions from across the United States and around the world.

Is it right that those that provide the subsidy (local property taxpayers) are not the primary beneficiaries of the services provided by the University? Perhaps if they were a charitable organization that primarily serves the local community then it would be a different story. The community providing the subsidy would be the same as the one receiving the benefit. But this is simply not the case.

Is it right for the many families in our community with limited means to be forced to provide a subsidy to a wealthy institution? Many government tax and benefit policies include a financial means test. Why wouldn’t a means test be relevant in this situation?

I believe that the affordability of our town is at stake. It is time for us to reconsider the purpose, basis and fairness of providing property tax exemptions. It is time now to reform the laws and rules that were designed for a very different past.

Henry Singer


  1. There are two arguments to this: Educational institutions are considered tax exempt – across the board – you can’t really pick and choose which ones should be exempt based on their endowment size. The second, larger argument is the fact that Princeton wouldn’t be what it is without the University. The number of students, parents, tourists, and visitors to the University that spend time (and money) on Nassau street keep the town alive. I would argue that the financial impact that the University has on the local economy is far larger than the tax revenue that would be brought in.

    1. This is a flimsy argument – if there was simply a one-way flow of capital perhaps this would be a legitimate conversation, but it’s not. In fairness, let’s not forget that Princeton is also contributing financially to the area. What are tax receipts? If anything, are you arguing Princeton should subsidize the area more? If the University ceased to exist, Princeton is Hopewell at best (no offense to Hopewellians).


  2. Everyone living in Princeton either (a) was born here and stayed, voluntarily, or returned after leaving and discovering Princeton is a great place to live; or (b) moved here because of the quality of life and mix of rich activities. Princeton University, and its tax status, pre-dated all of us. Property taxes are widely available and easily comparable from town to town, village to village, city to city. If someone doesn’t like where they’ve chosen to stay, or where they’ve chosen to move, because of the taxable base of property, I don’t understand why they don’t just sell their home — which is worth far more on a per-foot basis than in most adjacent areas, largely because of the allure of community, which is largely because of the University — and move to Edison, or Lambertville, or Plainsboro, or any of the 500+ other NJ municipalties where their home sale proceeds would buy a bigger house or a similar house and a savings account. Instead, thye seem to want all of the benefits of living in an academically enriched community without paying for the benefit.

    1. It’s false that Princeton University has always been here in its current state. The university has systematically bought up property and taken it off the tax roles, thus increasing the property taxes for the remaining taxable properties. The university, and its consequent traffic, imposes real costs on the maintenance of the local roads and other infrastructure, whose costs are primarily paid for by the local community and not the university.

      I’m pro-university, but it is rich and it’s not right for it to not pay it’s fair share of the costs.

      1. Actually, Princeton has grown and been a great contributor during its growth phase. Increasing its contribution in lieu of property taxes, contributing money, time and talents of its students and faculty to many local non-profit organization and often continuing to pay property taxes even when it isn’t required to. Finally, keep in mind that Princeton University is the SINGLE LARGEST taxpayer in Princeton … even with the exemption!

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