May 5, 2016

Incremental Tax Receipts Should Be Used to Reduce Property Taxes

To the Editor:

Press reports have suggested that Princeton University’s tax remittances may increase significantly as a result of a lawsuit challenging the tax exempt status of some of the University’s buildings and activities.

The stakes are very high for the University. Its influence is considerable, but the climate is changing and a judge can do whatever he or she wants to do. As we are reminded daily, the “1 percent” are not very popular these days. Connecticut’s efforts to tax Yale’s endowment income suggest that the definition of the “1 percent” is broadening. Given the risk to the University of an adverse ruling, an out of court settlement seems likely.

Should there be such a settlement, the magnitude of our towns’ potential tax windfall would be significant. Voters should expect candidates for mayor and Council to specify what they would do with the incremental tax revenues.

My own position is simple. Incremental tax receipts, whether resulting from a ruling against the University or from a negotiated settlement, should be used exclusively to reduce property taxes. Millage rates should be reduced to the point at which there would be a dollar for dollar substitution of windfall revenues for existing tax levies. Windfall revenues should not be squandered on new projects and programs.

Voters should also expect candidates — at least those of us who are free of conflicts of interest — to express our views as to what an acceptable settlement might look like. Here, too, my position is simple: the negotiation should not be limited to money.

Preserving Princeton’s essential small town character is one of my top priorities. I would therefore favor a settlement that includes changes in prospective land use. We might, for example, seek to persuade the University to deed restrict Springdale Golf Course, setting it aside, in perpetuity, as open space — and abandoning the right, conveyed in current zoning, to construct a row of ten story buildings on one of our town’s defining green belts.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Bruce Afran, we seem likely to be offered one of life’s rare opportunities for a redo. Let’s make the most of it.

Peter Marks

Moore Street

Editor’s note: Mr. Marks is running for mayor in the Republican primary.