Send Lehigh University a Land Tax Bill

I’ll give John Callahan the same advice on Lehigh University that I gave Rich Fitzgerald on UPMC – don’t just ask for a random amount of money. Send them a non-binding land tax bill.

Figure out how much money a private company would pay in taxes on all the land Lehigh’s using, and then send them a fake bill for it. Make sure the press knows how much it is. Then figure out how much less the average homeowner’s tax bill could be if Lehigh paid the equivalent of their land tax bill to the city, and make sure the voters know what that number is.

This would be more embarrassing for Lehigh than an arbitrary amount like $1 million. You need to show people the actual amount of money the city’s losing every year with all Lehigh’s land off the tax rolls. Count the amount lost to non-profits on the spending side of the city budget every year so it’s in people’s faces. You need to start acting like you expect them to pay the land tax, not like you’re begging for it.


  1. You’d have this plan because you’re a petulant little asshole who never learned to work and play well with others.

    And in response to your plan, if I were Lehigh I’d publish a report on the tens of millions in economic (if not over $100 million) annually the school has on the Bethlehem and regional community (7,000 students and 1,800 employees do have an impact). I’d publish a report on all the tax revenue the city of Bethlehem collects because Lehigh is there. I’d publish a list of economic development projects that would not have gotten done were it not for Lehigh.

    Then let’s see who’s embarrassed.

    Again you do no analysis, no thought, just knee-jerk reaction, petulance and immaturity.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      This is just political strategy advice. On the merits, plenty of companies do just as much or more for Bethlehem, and they all pay property taxes. Bethlehem still has to provide public services to the land Lehigh uses, and they should pay taxes on at least the land portion of the assessed value.

  2. What business in Bethlehem does more than the colleges? Maybe the Sands, but that’s it?

    I’d love to hear who “plenty” are.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Maybe Sands. I should’ve said the other companies combined.

      • That makes no sense.

        I’d also posit that Lehigh in the aggregate – what it generates vs. what it costs the city in lost real estate taxes – is a large net contributor. Bethlehem increases its census count by more than 10% when Lehigh is in session, and most of their students are well-off/have money to spend.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          My point is that arguing that Lehigh provides benefits to the city is not an argument that they shouldn’t pay land taxes. Lots of businesses provide great services. They should all pay taxes.

          • I find it sort of funny that your stating a position that ALL businesses should pay taxes. I am going to assume that you are going to be consistent with that approach and support ALL individuals paying federal taxes also…

          • Jon Geeting says:

            All workers do pay federal taxes. They are called payroll taxes.

          • You are probably referring to SS and Medicare taxes which are designated for those two programs. What about the federal payroll taxes paid which are mostly returned and with the addition of tax credits, people get more funds then they actually paid in? Dont those individuals have a responsibility under your argument to pay for the running of the government?

          • Jon Geeting says:

            No. Some people are too poor to be expected to pay income taxes. By contrast, people who are rich enough to own land are rich enough to pay land taxes.

  3. This whole issue is a red herring from Callahan, a way to scapegoat Lehigh. He has eyes on the NC exe job and it would not look good for him to impose a 10%+ tax increase . So push the blame on big bad lehigh not paying their fair share.

    John hit the nail on the head, Lehigh should be publishing the cost for all those after school programs they fund, the cost for the lehigh police patrols in the surrounding community around the college, the revenue and TAX impact their business generates for the area. I am sure it is well in excess of the 500K or whatever it is Callahan is looking for

  4. …or, the mayor can start to address the real problem, the spiraling legacy costs. The defined benefit pensions (fire, police, municipals) are not sustainable. Kicking the can down the road has not worked…that’s why we are where we are. No more ridiculous deals paying 70% of salary including OT to cops, to count toward retirement. New employees get a 401-k. better start soon. Either that, or raise taxes and beg non-profits.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      The city’s constrained by what they’re allowed to do under state law. The rising pension payments are all locked in – you can’t change them. You can only change the compensation mix for future employees.

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