Should Non-profits Pay Taxes or Disclose Payments to Government?

Non-profit organizations are frequently granted special consideration by governments because they are dedicated to serving the public good. However, the cash-strapped city of Pittsburgh has found itself embroiled in a legal battle over the public disclosure of payments made to the city by local non-profit organizations in lieu of property taxes.

Some members of the public (or perhaps only the news media) are demanding to see how much money the non-profit groups are paying to the city, which does not tax their (possibly) extensive real estate holdings. The feeling seems to be that if the non-profits are not compensating the city for what they would normally pay in taxes that perhaps some adjustments to the tax code may be in order.

This is a contentious issue, as one can imagine, because non-profit organizations can vary in quality and they definitely don’t all provide services of equal popularity. For example, there are some non-profit organizations that very conservative Republican party members oppose (especially in the areas of women’s health care and family planning). But some non-profit organizations are almost universally supported by all political interests (such as the American Red Cross, which provides disaster relief and community health services).

A large part of the money that Pittsburgh collects from non-profits is already disclosed publicly because some organizations participate in a collective agreement with the city called the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund. The dispute over other non-profit organizations’ contributions to the city is that their moneys are not publicly disclosed.

On the one hand, the citizens of a community have a right to know how their money and services are being managed; on the other hand, non-profit organizations have been given special treatment for a long time. This conflict appears to be a collision of entitlements which both should benefit the public good.

Hopefully all the parties involved will find a reasonable compromise on the matter. It would be a shame to see an expensive legal process drawn out over a difference in opinions. Pittsburgh doesn’t need that kind of expense.