Cardinal George speaks in support of coalition for free water for nonprofits

April 30, 2013

By Diana Buendia

Cardinal Francis George has joined a large interfaith coalition pushing for free or discounted water for religious institutions.

The coalition, working together since Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut the exemption that gave churches free water in December 2011, is now responding to the mayor’s proposal that would charge nonprofits for water based on their assets. Nonprofits with net assets under $1 million would be exempt from paying for water, while those with more than $250 million in assets would pay the full charge. Those in between would pay a discounted rate.

Cardinal Francis George voiced opposition to the plan, though he was careful in how he addressed his challenge to the mayor:

“As we go forward and people are saying that there has to be some kind of mutual accommodation, I would just like to say that they should look at the budgets and the operating deficits and the savings, much more so than assets,” he said.  “If you don’t want a city that only has government institutions, then you have to see to the solvency of religious institutions and other non-profits.”

The Cardinal said he and other religious leaders want to find a middle ground with city officials.

Aldermen that support the coalition proposed a change to restore the water exemption last December, but that’s been stuck in committee.

In a statement, Tom Alexander, the mayor’s deputy communications director, called the asset-based compromise “a fair, reasonable proposal that will allow all non-profit institutions the chance to continue providing their vital community services, while paying their fair share, just as residents do.”

Alexander said the measure is the mayor’s “final proposal” after holding meetings with faith leaders, aldermen and community groups. He said they hope to bring the proposal up at the next City Council meeting.