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Why is the Acton Institute Fighting the city of Grand Rapids for Non-Profit Property Tax Exempt Status?

As many city governments seek additional revenue to deal with their growing budgets, one of the new emerging and favorite targets is non-profits. A new survey from the University of Michigan highlights how local government officials are looking to put the tax squeeze on non-profits, educational institutions, and charitable organizations. At Acton, we are currently experiencing this first hand. The city of Grand Rapids denied our property tax exemption request for our new $ 7 million downtown headquarters. Acton lost an appeal to the city's board of review and will appeal to Michigan's state Tax Tribunal.

The city is trying to define us very narrowly as not being a charitable or educational organization but their argument does not persuade anyone familiar with our work for more than two decades. We are confident our appeal will be successful because of the existing case law as well as our long tradition of community service that has only expanded since our move into our new downtown headquarters. We've exceeded one of our main goals during this move with our ability to vastly improve our outreach to the Grand Rapids community and especially partnering with local ministries.

The city's denial is not related to Acton's standing as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 recognition by the IRS. That has never been in question and is an entirely separate matter. Part of the city's argument is that the Acton Institute is not an entity of the state or supported with state funds. The bigger question though, is one of properly recognizing the role and value of non-profits and charitable organizations that are independent from the government.

Local, state, and the federal governments are increasingly reluctant to make room for independent charities and organizations. Too often, as society becomes collectivized, government officials believe they have the superior method and organization when it comes to alleviating poverty or addressing institutionalized problems. This kind of thinking promotes the status quo when it comes to the same kind of tired, harmful, and too often destructive economic policies. It's also an anathema to the idea that is at the root of a free society, that the purpose of government is to work for the people, not the people for government.

Government at the local level is desperately looking for new funding sources. It has turned its sights on non-profits and charities for now. Part of the reason is because localities often don't have the courage to ask for tax increases from the voters to meet their overextended public expenditures. We are only asking for the laws in Grand Rapids to be applied fairly and consistently. But we are committed to conveying the importance and power of improving our local community and the world apart from government.

Kris Alan Mauren
Executive Director