By Ed Stannard
Maybe Yale's dorms would be replaced with cabanas on Florida's Gulf Coast beach.
Seizing on what he sees as an opportunity, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has invited Yale to bring its $25.6 billion endowment to the Sunshine State, where the mood is for cutting taxes, not raising them.
"With news that the Connecticut Legislature wants to unfairly tax one of the nation's most renowned universities to deal with the state's budget shortfall, it is clear that all businesses in Connecticut, including Yale, should look to move to Florida," Scott wrote in a release Tuesday.
Yes, Florida, land of sunshine, humidity and tax cuts -- 55 of them since 2011, according to Scott's release. He brags that Floridians have saved $5.5 billion in that time, with 1 million new jobs and a $1 billion budget surplus.
It's true that two Democratic New Haven legislators, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney and state Rep. Toni Walker, have introduced a bill that would have Yale put more of its endowment into additional jobs and education for residents or fork over $78 million to the state. That would be 0.3 percent of Yale's endowment, which supports one-third of Yale's annual budget.
Senate Bill 413 doesn't mention Yale specifically, but it proposes taxing endowments larger than $10 billion, and Yale has the only endowment in the state that approaches that figure. Yale's endowment, overseen by its renowned chief investment officer, David Swensen, last totaled less than $10 billion in 1999, when it was just over $7 billion, according to Yale's annual reports. In 2009, a devastating year for the endowment with a loss of 24.6 percent, it sank to just $16 billion or so.
The prestigious Ivy League university, founded in 1701 in Old Saybrook and growing to become a behemoth of an institution, comprises more than 5,500 undergraduates, 6,800 professional and graduate students, 4,410 faculty members and more than 13,000 employees.
According to Yale's testimony to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, the university voluntarily pays $8.86 million annually to the three municipalities it calls home and helps support the area's biotechnology industry.
If Yale went South, it's unclear what would become of its 440 buildings, spread over 1,153 acres, on its central campus downtown New Haven, its West Campus in West Haven and Orange and its athletic fields and golf course. Certainly city residents' call for a community center would be easily accommodated, and perhaps Old Campus could be used to replace the demolished Church Street South housing project. And who can't use another public golf course?
But that would still leave something of a hole in the center of the city where Yale has a gargantuan footprint.
While its academic properties are tax exempt, Yale paid more than $4.5 million in property taxes to New Haven in 2014 as a landlord for various businesses, according to its testimony to the committee.
"If Connecticut lawmakers are seriously considering another tax on Yale, businesses and families should be concerned about the other tax increases their Legislature will consider," Scott wrote in his release. "We would welcome a world-renowned university like Yale to our state and I can commit that we will not raise taxes on their endowment. This would add yet another great university to our state."
Yale's press secretary, Thomas Conroy, issued a statement saying, "It's wonderful to be recognized as an outstanding asset, but Yale, New Haven, and Connecticut have been on common ground to great mutual benefit for 300 years. We're looking forward to reaching even greater heights in education, research and civic engagement over the next three centuries and more."
Looney's take: "The only thing I can say is that I don't think that Yale would want to trade all of those beautiful ivy-covered walls for the humidity, alligators and mildew in Florida."
It may be a little hard to imagine Yale as Florida's premier institution of higher learning. It's easy to see, though, why Scott would like to lure Yale to the Sunshine State. In Forbes' 2015 list of top colleges and universities, Yale ranked fifth. The top Florida school was the University of Florida, at No. 83.
Scott has made something of a sideline of trying to lure Connecticut businesses to Florida. In 2015, he came to Norwalk to talk to business leaders about migrating to the state.
(c)2016 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)