You’re going to be hearing a lot in the next few days about UPMC paying its fair share when it comes to paying property tax on at least some of the $1.6 billion in property it owns in Allegheny County.
Allegheny County Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Gold Room of the county courthouse to discuss the more than 650 acres owned by the healthcare giant. The meeting won’t be a quick one because Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh United — a local social justice outfit — says that 70 people have signed up to speak so far.
A large number of those, he tells me, are current UPMC employees who are fighting their own battle to get better wages and benefits out of the company through an SEIU unionization effort. While you may not think it on the surface, employees fighting for a union and taxpayers fighting for UPMC to pay their “fair share” are sort of fighting the same battle.
“People have really gotten to know UPMC as an employer and a community leader,” says Oursler. “So when we see that we don’t have enough money for transportation and for education and you see how little UPMC pays in property taxes you start to ask questions and you wonder why.
“Now you start to hear through this unionization effort that workers voices aren’t being heard and you see how little two-thirds of its workers earn and you realize it’s just one more way they’ve failed to meet their responsibilities to the community.”
Wednesday’s hearing isn’t the only place you’ll be hearing about UPMC ponying up more tax dollars. This morning, state Sen. Wayne Fontana tweeted that he would be re-intreducing legislation to force UPMC and other non-profits to pay taxes on their property.
"If you keep buying prime real estate and taking it off of the tax rolls, then the rest falls on the taxpayers out there. When they're paying less, everyone else is paying more."
And although this situation has gone on for years, Oursler says he believes the current efforts to get UPMC to pay up will be a successful one.
“I think what you’ll see at this hearing on Wednesday is that a lot of individuals and groups are uniting behind this effort because they realize that this is a huge suck of our community resources,” Oursler says. “It’s scary to go up against the biggest, baddest guy in town especially when they’re not even cloaking what they are doing.
“But the workers are desperate. The tax payers are desperate and I think they’ve take heart in each other and I do believe a sea change is coming.”