Jun 242009

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl seems to have a poor grasp of what “voluntary” means. From an article with theĀ  headline, “Mayor Ravenstahl to nonprofits: pay up or else“:

“‘As we see the reductions [in voluntary contributions from nonprofit organizations] continue, and not meet what we need, this is our alternative,’ [Ravenstahl] said of surcharges on hospital admissions, undergraduate students, all-day parkers and nonprofit water users. A move toward fees ‘potentially would be the best way to compel the nonprofits to come to the table.’ The mayor discussed the issue during a session with the Post-Gazette editorial board.”

What’s the problem? Well, the city is badly in debt and the mayor’s looking for ways to bring in more money. Since the city is replete with non-profits that are to varying degrees tax-exempt, the mayor is hoping to extort money from them in some other way.

According to aversion of the same article entitled, “Ravenstahl seeks more money from nonprofits, commuters“, non-profits have been “voluntarily” donating to the city.

“More than 100 tax-exempt institutions joined together in 2004 and paid the city around $14 million total from 2005 through 2007. Their umbrella group, the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund, recently offered $5.5 million total for the years 2008 through 2010 — a proposal city council has effectively ignored.”

So, here’s how I understand the situation:

  • Cities are primarily funded through taxation.
  • Non-profits are tax-exempt.
  • Non-profits were asked to voluntarily contribute to the city coffers.
  • For various reasons non-profits aren’t contributing as much as they used to.
  • Pittsburgh needs to pay debts.
  • The mayor is threatening non-profits to cough up more dough or else he’ll impose fees on non-profits and/or their clients.

“Voluntarily donate more or you will be compelled to pay the city through taxes.” Does that sound voluntary to you?!