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Higher Ed, Metro

Occupy shifts focus to tax status

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2012

While most Brown students went home for the holidays, Occupy Providence protesters spent the last month in Burnside Park braving temperatures often below freezing. The group made a deal with the city Monday to leave the park at night, but it has also added a new initiative to its agenda ­— to make the University pay more to Providence.

Last week, protesters occupied City Hall to protest Brown’s tax exemption, arguing that the University does not pay its “fair share” in taxes.

The protest coincided with a Providence City Council vote to strip the University of its tax-exempt status. The motion was introduced by Councilman John Igliozzi, Ward 7, and passed the 15-person council unanimously. The General Assembly is slated to vote on the measure.

Without its tax-exempt status, the University could have to pay almost $30 million more per year than it currently does. Brown contributes around $4 million per year to the city in voluntary payments and property taxes.

Many in the Occupy movement see Brown’s tax-exempt status as a case of government supporting corporations while ignoring the needs of the least privileged. “They’re a corporation,” said protester Robert Malin of Brown. “Brown has a $2.5 billion endowment but doesn’t pay fair taxes.”

Malin stressed that Occupy Providence does not “have an antagonistic relationship with the city or with Brown University,” noting that Brown students have turned out to support the Occupy movement.

“When you think of a non-profit school, you think of dedicated teachers and administrators making middle class income, not a president making more than three-quarters of a million dollars,” Malin said.

Providence has faced a severe budget deficit over the past several years. Last year alone, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras trimmed more than $20 million from education spending.

Occupy Providence finalized the details of an agreement with the city Monday to end their nighttime occupation of Burnside Park in exchange for the opening of a day center for the city’s homeless. The center will provide the homeless a place to avoid the cold winter weather during the day, as well as resources for the homeless to find jobs and permanent housing.

Though the protesters claimed victory in the deal, group members have spent much of the last month debating amongst themselves the details of the agreement with the city. “I’m definitely opposed to (the deal),” said Amanda Magee, an organizer and original member of Occupy Providence. “I honestly feel like we shouldn’t be negotiating with the city. They’re liars. They’re criminals. They’re the 1 percent.”

Most of the disagreement came from those who thought Occupy Providence could obtain greater concessions from the city. “Our movement is one of the last ones standing, not to be a victim of police rampage. The city’s offer is okay, but the city can do better,” Magee said.

“They should be providing a shelter already, they have the power,” Magee said. “Thirty people died last year because of the winter.”

But the energy at the camp has remained strong. “You have not heard the last of Occupy Providence,” a protester shouted Tuesday during celebrations of the city’s concession. 

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