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Menino to nonprofits: Pay up!

City’s Payments in Lieu of Taxes program has MFA and other arts and education institutions asking questions

I was on my way to dinner last week when I stopped in on Museum of Fine Arts director Malcolm Rogers’s Lowell Lecture at the Boston Public Library. It was an interesting presentation, sadly underattended. The talk warmed up about halfway through when Rogers started griping about the city’s “lack of vision’’ where the MFA’s finances were concerned. Specifically, Rogers was venting about Boston’s unsubtle tax shakedown directed against nonprofits, called the PILOT program, for Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

I bearded Rogers after his talk, expecting him to back off his tough rhetoric. But he stayed steamed, in a buttoned-down English way. The city had just jacked up his annual PILOT payment from $66,000 to $250,000, and was planning to tag him for a cool million down the road. The veiled threat to nonpayers is that the traffic light outside the main entrance won’t get fixed, or the key side street leading to the staff garage won’t be plowed, and so on.

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