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President Ruth Simmons, speaking at a faculty meeting Tuesday, reiterated the University's opposition to proposed state legislation levying fees on private universities for their out-of-state students and valuable real estate.

She also emphasized the ways Brown already contributes to the local economy by creating jobs and paying taxes on properties that are not exempt.

The University is "working closely with other colleges and universities to convey our opposition" to the two bills being reviewed in the Rhode Island General Assembly, Simmons said.

One bill would allow cities to tax private colleges up to $150 per semester, per out-of-state student. The other bill would let cities collect up to 25 percent of property taxes from nonprofits — which are usually tax-exempt — whose holdings are valued at more than $20 million.

Both bills would cost Brown millions.

The four private colleges and universities in Providence agreed in 2003 to pay the city a combined contribution of $2.4 million per year for 20 years in an effort to somewhat offset the revenue the city forfeits because of the schools' tax-exempt status. The majority of Brown's properties — though not all — are tax-exempt.

In fiscal year 2009, the University paid $3.34 million to Providence, both in property taxes and the agreed-upon voluntary payment, Simmons said.

"We understand, appreciate and would like to assist" Providence's and Rhode Island's "very dismal" economic situation, Simmons said, adding that the University wants to work as a "constructive partner with the city and state."

The only property the University recently purchased that will come off the city's tax rolls is the site for the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts between Angell and Olive Streets, Simmons said.

The University has established a formula with the city for gradually reducing tax payments on the property over 15 years, Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

The passage of either of the two pending bills would have "significant consequences for Brown," Simmons told the faculty. Though the proposed student tax is now limited to $150 per semester, Simmons said, the tax, once passed, "could be increased at will."

"We believe this is not only bad, but highly risky public policy," she said.

As the eighth-largest employer in the state, the University "indirectly creates" almost 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs through its local hiring and spending, according to Quinn.

Simmons told the faculty on Tuesday that on-campus construction work this past summer provided 300 jobs.

In the fiscal year spanning parts of 2005 and 2006 — the most recent year for which data are available — Brown spent over $243 million on purchases and construction, Quinn wrote. Of that spending, $64.3 million went to Rhode Island companies, and 72 percent of that local amount went to Providence-based companies.

Simmons also cited student spending as a source of economic activity. In the 2004-05 academic year, she said, Brown students spent over $40 million locally, generating more than 840 jobs for the state.

The University and its hospital partners also received 80 percent of the total money awarded to Rhode Island institutions by the federal National Institutes of Health, Simmons wrote in a June letter to the University.

Simmons also touched upon the University's own financial difficulties in her comments at the faculty meeting. Compared to its peer institutions, the University is "somewhat better off in many regards," Simmons said, mentioning that she had just met with the presidents of several of Brown's peers and discussed the "issues they're facing and what they're doing."

"In listening to them, I feel that our situation is very strong," Simmons said. "We are certainly no worse off than our peers."




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