In the Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, offers a commentary on the two-year battle with the city of Grand Rapids over the institute’s exempt status under state property tax law (see the March 15 Acton news release, “Acton Institute Prevails in Property Tax Dispute with City of Grand Rapids” for background). In his opinion piece, Rev. Sirico writes:
We were assured earlier from then-City Attorney Catherine Mish that it all wasn’t political, but a brief signed and submitted by assistant city attorneys tells another story.
The city made the accusation that the Acton Institute “is a politically driven think tank that publishes right-wing libertarian, philosophical and political propaganda tempered with extreme-right religious viewpoints.” The city further alleged that our educational curricula and publications were “tailored narrowly to the mission of spreading its right-wing libertarian viewpoint.”
It’s clear Acton was being denied this exemption for so long not on the merits, but on personal and political grounds. An undercurrent of menace is unmistakable throughout the brief, directed at our religious and economic teachings.
This is part of a larger trend of over-spending city bureaucrats targeting nonprofits to make up for the city’s own mismanagement of funds.
Read “When politicians want your money” in the Detroit News by Rev. Robert A. Sirico.
Also see the March 18 article “City on hook for $205K in tax decision” by Rachel Weick in the Grand Rapids Business Journal.
“We had asked the city at the very beginning of this process to identify for us why they believed we didn’t qualify. They could never articulate an answer for us,” said [Acton attorney Deborah] Ondersma. “I would say that the most disappointing part of the process for me as an attorney was to see the tone of the city’s briefing. That was surprising and disappointing to me.”
In the Jan. 21, 2016, respondent’s brief motion for summary disposition, the city indicated while the “type of political, economic, and religious guidance Petitioner provides is important in a civil society, it is not the type of pro-social activity the Legislature has deemed so vital as to warrant upsetting the normal balance of equal taxation.”
The respondent brief also stated the petitioner “is a public policy think-tank attempting to masquerade before this Tax Tribunal as a charitable and educational organization,” and publishes “right-wing libertarian, philosophical and political propaganda tempered with extreme-right religious viewpoints.”