Justin Peligri: D.C.’s overtaxing of GW adds insult to injury

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

GW has at least one thing in common with your Republican uncle: They both complain about paying their taxes.

GW, like other universities, is lucky enough to receive exemptions from most property taxes. Like houses of worship, colleges provide enough of a public good to get out of paying them, the logic goes.

But here is where some recent contention lies: The University is required to pay taxes on the commercial properties it invests in. And the District is trying to take an advantage of that.

Last week, The Hatchet reported that GW is suing the city, arguing that it was unfairly subjected to $7 million in property taxes on buildings including 2000 and 2100 Pennsylvania Ave., 805 21st St. and One Washington Circle. GW makes money off of those buildings, which house office space, hotels and restaurants.

But when it comes to these taxes, the District should lay off because the city already handcuffs the University with an enrollment cap.

The inhibitive rule caps the number of full-time equivalent students on the Foggy Bottom Campus at 16,553. That limits tuition-paying students and the amount of money administrators have on hand to pour into academic programs.

Because the enrollment cap deprives GW of financial revenue in ways that our competitors in other East Coast cities – like New York and Boston – do not face, it should be the District’s prerogative to do all it can to help GW compete.

In most big American cities, college students and professors are welcomed as integral components of the community. Having high numbers of intellectuals in one concentrated place means they’ll probably stay in that city, build their profession and their family there, and improve the quality of life for all of the city’s residents.

Take Boston, for example, which has no cap on its universities. The city’s colleges and universities have created 68,400 jobs for the city and bring in an estimated $4.9 billion annually, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

And these academic communities don’t suck up nearly as much as they pump in. A city’s college students don’t take up seats in local public schools and often rely mostly on their own school’s police department, relieving the city of many responsibilities they owe to other citizens.

But the District’s enrollment cap on GW’s number of students shows that DC’s illogical leaders don’t think the way political leaders in Boston and New York do. By overtaxing GW this year, D.C. is hurting, not helping, GW.

Yes, GW’s fiercely industrialist attitude and hunger to expand its reach in the nation’s capital can be frustrating. Some disgruntled tuition-payers argue that maybe GW would be able to improve its reputation and value of its degrees if it wasn’t so focused on eating up every bit of free real estate in the city.

They might have a point. GW is, after all, the second-largest landowner in the city after the federal government. But that land helps the University grow if investment income goes back into academics and research.

In a tax lawsuit, students and the academic programs will be the benefactor, not the loser, if the University wins.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.