The two-page letter the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education sent to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl about his lawsuit challenging UPMC's nonprofit status.
April 5, 2013
Dear Mayor Ravenstahl:
We are writing on behalf of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education. As you know, its membership includes essentially all of Pittsburgh's colleges and universities. Several months ago, you invited most of the PCHE institutions to participate as members of a Nonprofit Sector Support Task Force. We understand that the creation of this task force had been directed by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.
All of our members are committed to this community and have contributed in immeasurable ways to the economic strength and social vitality of both the City of Pittsburgh and the greater Pittsburgh region. Collectively, we also provide the single largest block of voluntary contributions that have been made to the support the City through the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund. And every one of our member institutions that was invited originally agreed to designate a representative to serve on the task force. At that time, we all hoped that we might be able to help shape a constructive dialogue regarding the long-term financial strength of the City -- a dialogue that would necessarily have to include such issues as the reform of a municipal pension system that has placed the City under a staggering set of seemingly unending obligations and a more equitable approach to assessing those who earn their living in the City for the services that they consume in the process.
Obviously, circumstances have changed dramatically since then. Your announcement that you will not seek re-election guarantees that the City will be led by a new Mayor in a matter of months. Your decision to bring a lawsuit challenging the tax-exempt status of UPMC, while formally directed against only one institution, has implications for the entire nonprofit community, as statements made by other elected officials make clear. Finally, other elected officials have recently introduced legislation targeting the nonprofit sector.
At a recent meeting of the ICA, Don Smith, the chairman of the task force, addressed these issues. According to published reports, Dr. Smith stated that the "spirit of openness and collaboration has been wounded" and concluded that the likelihood that progress could now be forged had been greatly diminished. Our member institutions agree with Dr. Smith's assessment and believe that we have no choice but to focus on the litigation and legislation that has targeted us, rather than investing in the conversation that had been anticipated when the task force was created. As past efforts have shown, making progress on these longstanding issues is difficult even in the best of circumstances, and it actually would seem to be counter-productive to try to push forward in the adversarial environment that exists today.
As noted above, this unanimous judgment was made reluctantly by a group of institutional leaders who have demonstrated a strong commitment to the City and who also wish you well, not only during your remaining months in office but in all that lies beyond that.
Gregory Dell'Omo, President
Kenneth Service, Executive Director
c: Don Smith
First Published April 9, 2013 12:45 AM