1 in 5 Providence workers employed by tax-exempts like Brown

Is Providence biting the hands that feed its residents?

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and his aides certainly don’t see it that way. But the seven tax-exempt institutions they’re targeting for a bigger contribution to Providence’s budget employ one in five workers there, making each of them one of its main employers, city documents show.

The gang of seven are Brown University, Lifespan (Rhode Island and The Miriam hospitals), Care New England (Women & Infants and Butler hospitals), CharterCARE (Roger Williams Medical Center and St. Joseph Health Services), Providence College, Johnson & Wales University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Those seven tax-exempts employed 20,837 workers in Providence in 2011, which was 19.5% of total city employment, according to R.I. Economic Development Corporation data city auditors prepared for bondholders. Brown is the city’s No. 1 employer with 5,162 workers, or 4.83% of total city employment.

The seven’s share of employment in Providence has held about steady during the recession despite an overall reduction in their payrolls. They employed 22,104 Providence workers in 2008, which was 19.7% of city employment at the time, according to R.I. Department of Labor and Training data.

Of course, just because the nonprofits employ a lot of workers in Providence doesn’t necessarily mean those people wind up contributing a lot to the city’s budget. They don’t pay income tax to Providence, unlike in New York City, which levies an income tax on residents and city workers. They may not live in Providence at all.

“The mayor has said many times that he recognizes and appreciates the important contributions that our tax-exempt institutions make to the culture and economic life of our city and the health care of our city,” Taveras spokesman David Ortiz said.

“But that does not mean that we do not have to resolve the issue that the mayor has raised in recent months, and certainly in the past week, regarding the city’s very real need for the tax-exempts to do more to pay for the services that they receive,” he said.

The same city documents show a retreat by for-profit employers in Providence.

The number of private companies ranked among Providence’s principal employers fell from eight in 2008 to six in 2011. The number of workers they employed plunged by more than half, from 9,910 to 4,020.

Five of Providence’s top eight private business employers in 2008 had disappeared from the list by 2011: Bank of America, Citizens Bank, Verizon, Pinkerton Northeast/Securitas and Textron. Three new private employers were added: Mars 2000, H. Carr & Sons Inc. and Employment 2000.

The only three private companies that appeared on both lists were GTECH, A.H. Belo’s Providence Journal Co. division and National Grid. GTECH lost four jobs, The Journal Co. added 135 and National Grid axed 400.

Other major employers on the 2011 list included Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and AAA Southern New England. Blue Cross and AAA are registered as nonprofits, while Rhode Island College is part of state government.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

(photo: Brown University)

6 thoughts on “1 in 5 Providence workers employed by tax-exempts like Brown

  1. If you don’t have health insurance and get sick, the tax payers have to pay for it anyway- so go get health insurance please- search online “Penny Medical” and learn how you can get insurance at discount price.

  2. Your story is misleading. You make it seem like 1 in 5 city residents work at these tax exempts. That’s not what your data shows. Your data is who works in Providence – not who lives and works in Providence. You should state 1 in 5 jobs in Providence is with a tax exempt. Important distinction.

  3. You know some rocket scientist will get the bright idea for all the cities and towns to impose their own little income taxes. I don’t even know if they can do that legally here, but if not I’m sure our bought and paid for GA will be more than happy to help out with that. I work in Providence but I don’t live there. However, I easily spend $150/wk or more on goods and services in Providence. If they hit me with an income tax, I will spend $0 in Providence from then on and encourage all other commuters to do the same. It’s time to stop the RI business as usual tax and spend cycle.

  4. What gets lost in these discussions of what tax-exempt employers in general, and Brown in particular, might “owe” to the City of Providence in taxes, is the fact that they do not always require and use a full complement of city services. Brown, for example, has it’s own fully credentialed police force which actually relieves Providence police from having to patrol not just the campus, but also the neighborhoods (like Thayer St.) around campus. Brown also pays for it’s own garbage collection and disposal, and it has its own professional emergency rescue (ambulance) service. So as far as I can tell, the only service from the city Brown uses is the fire department. Should it be forced to pay a full tax rate for everything else? I don’t think so.

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