Philadelphia Nonprofits Nervous Over Tax Proposal
Feb. 18, 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer — Nonprofit organizations fear a proposed amendment to Philadelphia's tax regulations will allow the city to tax an array of activities that they have always assumed were exempt.
The city revenue commissioner said today that proposed changes to the business-privilege tax regulations were being "misconstrued" and were not designed to generate new revenue.
Still, nonprofit experts said the proposed changes were broad enough to permit the city to tax universities for dorm fees, performing-arts theaters for concession-stand sales, and small community groups for fund-raising dinners.
The amendments, in practice, would require nonprofit groups to undertake bookkeeping and administrative changes that could be more costly than the taxes.
Revenue commissioner Keith Richardson acknowledged that the language in the amendments was "vague" in parts and would have to be rewritten, particularly to make it clear the city was not seeking to tax dorm fees.
"Our intent is being misconstrued," Richardson said, adding that the changes were unrelated to the city's fiscal crisis. "We are trying to close a loophole" and tax only business activities that are unrelated to the core mission of a nonprofit group.
"Dorms are clearly part of the core mission of a university," he said.
Richardson said his office would consider changes to the proposal after reviewing concerns raised by the nonprofit community, which sees a threat to the financial health of the smallest organizations and an unwieldy, shortsighted burden to others.
"Taxing nonprofit unrelated business activity would be a mistake," said David Ross, public policy officer for the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations. "By trying to extend the BPT to nonprofits, they are hurting the very institutions that are struggling to serve the needs of the community."
Lawyers representing nonprofit groups say they are hopeful the city will be open to reworking the final language to eliminate many, if not all, the problems they see.