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UPMC's tax-exempt status targeted in Pittsburgh

Plus, Philadelphia says water threat has passed.

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Your Postmaster: Spotlight PA Staff
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Tax checks, water test, House hearing, drug spread, explosion suit, 'Local 1196,' and 'the coolest things made in Pennsylvania.' This is PA Post. 
Mayor Ed Gainey will challenge the tax-exempt status of 26 Pittsburgh properties, including six owned by UPMC, the latter marking a step forward in his vow to make the health care titan "pay its fair share."

City Solicitor Krysia Kubiak said up to $3.5 million in tax revenue is at stake, according to PublicSource, which reports the 26 properties range from high-end Oakland condominiums to a vacant North Side lot. 

Six of the properties are owned by the $26 billion UPMC, the outlet adds, and carry $400,000 in annual property taxes if their exemptions are revoked.

Read PublicSource's full report: Gainey lines up tax-exempt challenges, including bid to tax some UPMC-owned properties.

THE CONTEXT: Gainey's tax-status challenges will be reviewed by the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review in a process that could take anywhere from six to nine months.

Former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl tried suing to end UPMC's tax-exempt status, but his successor, Bill Peduto, pulled the lawsuit in favor of a donation-based approach that stalled when he was voted out of office in 2021.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court created five standards nonprofits must meet to qualify for property tax exemptions. As Spotlight PA reported earlier this month, a Tower Health hospital in Pottstown had its property tax exemption revoked by a Commonwealth Court judge.

The decision came in a case brought by the Pottstown School District, which said the hospital's exemption cost it roughly $900,000 annually. Experts called the ruling a "warning shot" for other Pennsylvania nonprofits.

"This party, at the county level, and even at the state level, will never be successful if this is going to be the mindset of the party."

—Northumberland County GOP Party Chair Deb Betz, who resigned, citing racial bigotry and comments about sexual preference from members
» UNEQUAL ELECTIONS: Join us and a panel of election experts on Thursday, March 30 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free discussion on unequal voting policies in the state, how they impact voters, and possible solutions. Register for the event here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.'s 2023 primary election

» A guide to Commonwealth, Superior Court candidates

» A guide to the Pa. Supreme Court candidates

» Why independents can't vote in Pa. primaries (Spotlight PA archives)

» How unequal policies disenfranchised Pa. voters in 2022

» Register to vote in the May 16 primary here; deadline May 1

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now.
Lake Galena in Bucks County, via Sarah B. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A lakeside dock at sunset.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.WATER WAIT: Philadelphia officials say the city's tap water won't be impacted by Friday's upriver chemical spill after all. Check here for the latest updates. Officials drank the water at a Tuesday evening press conference and said "no further advisory will be needed." They added that models tracking the Delaware River show the threat of contamination has passed the city. Water monitoring will continue.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.KENNEY CRITICS: Candidates running to replace Mayor Jim Kenney in the city's sprawling mayoral race seized on his handling of the water issue this week and vowed to do better if elected. Kenney defended the city's response amid criticism of confusing guidance. The Inquirer reports the city will look at its messaging during the chemical spill's aftermath and seek ways of improving it in the future.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.OPEN HEARING: A U.S. House panel held a hearing Tuesday on the ballot paper shortage that shuttered polls across Luzerne County during November's crucial midterm, Capital-Star reports. Witnesses did not include local election officials who opted out. U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.) called the hearing GOP "grandstanding" and said the county's Republican DA is already on the case.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.TRANQ TROUBLE: Xylazine was detected in more than half of Pennsylvania's 67 counties in 2021 — a huge jump from just one in 2017, WESA reports. But even when a user suspects the veterinary tranquilizer is present in their drug supply, harm reduction experts say proving it is difficult: Testing is nascent, traditional overdose antidotes useless against it, and Pennsylvania is seeing more deaths linked to it.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.LAWSUIT FILED: A woman who lives next to West Reading's R.M. Palmer Company chocolate plant is suing over injuries she sustained in Friday's deadly explosion there. The woman's attorney says she was lifted from her feet and blown across the room, causing severe and permanent injuries, via ABC27. An investigation into the cause of the blast is complicated by the magnitude of the damage, AP reports.

STRIKE MOVIE: In 2021, striking United Steelworkers in western Pennsylvania gave documentarian Sam George unique access to the frontlines of their labor fight. This one-hour, award-winning film is the result.

MONEY BACK: Secure Ticket Purchase (aka boxofficeticketsales.com) has reached a deal with Pennsylvania's attorney general over its pandemic cancelation policy and you may be entitled to a refund

LOW-BALLED: Swatara Township's nonprofit Chinese Cultural & Arts Institute hoped to receive $400,000 to make way for the I-83 Capital Beltway expansion project. PennDOT is offering $100 instead, per PennLive (paywall).

COOLEST THINGS: Get your votes in by 5 p.m. today for round three of the PA Chamber of Business and Industry's Coolest Things Made in Pennsylvania bracket. In the running: pierogies, lighters, guitars, sandwiches.

RUNNING MAN: Keith Tindall of Harleysville has hit a goal he set out to accomplish decades ago: 50 marathons in all 50 states. "There's flat ones, hilly ones, high altitude, low altitude," he told WPVI.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Absolutism

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., John P., Susan D., Don H., Lynne E., Elaine C., Barbara F., Jon W., Alex R., Susan N.-Z., Stanley J., Dianne K., Ada M., James B., Dennis M., Richard A., Sarah B., Bill S., David W., Karen W., Kim C., Tom M., Kimberly D., and Trudy W.
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