Vote On Pittsburgh Tuition Tax May Be Delayed

Compiled By Staff
December 16, 2009

A controversial proposal by Pittsburgh's Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to impose a 1 percent tax on college tuition may be postponed.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that yesterday, the state's Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority approved a budget which did not include the tuition tax, allowing council members to proceed with a tentative budget vote today. Last night, Pittsburgh City Council members indicated that a vote on the controversial tax could be delayed to allow extra time to discuss the plan with college leaders, who strongly oppose the plan.

But The Pittsburgh Channel reports that there could still be a debate about the tax today, and opponents may even force a vote. Others, such as City Controller Michael Lamb, suggested that the tax was unnecessary, and efforts would be better spent persuading institutions to make voluntary contributions to the city budget.

"The budget is reasonably balanced," noted Lamb, who was quoted by The Pittsburgh Channel. "I certainly commend the mayor taking the steps he has taken, particularly the removal of the tuition tax from this budget, which does raise the question: Why do we continue to pursue a tuition tax before City Council? The tax, as the budget shows, is unnecessary for 2010."

The mayor has said that the tax would provide revenue to pay pensions for retired city employees, but Pittsburgh students and college officials remain strongly against the proposal. The New York Times reports that officials at the University of Pittsburgh noted that they would "vigorously oppose any attempt to impose a service or privilege fee on our undergraduate and graduate students."

According to the Times, Ravenstahl said that he offered to forgo the tax if universities and tax-exempt nonprofits agreed to contribute $5 million to the city. But the Pittsburgh Council of Higher Education rejected his request, and last week sent a four-page letter which explained that the council would not consider payments as long as Ravenstahl continued to threaten to tax college students.

Chad Ellis, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, agreed that the tax is unfair. "Holding students hostage in negotiations to come up with money to pay for bloated city pension plans is divisive," he was quoted as saying in the Times.

Many city officials are also opposed to the plan. State Auditor Jack Wagner was quoted as saying in the Post-Gazette that the tax is unreasonable because it asks "a select group of people to fund a specific entity of government--in this case, pensions. People are hurting. No matter where you go in Pennsylvania, the average person is doing everything they can to reduce expenses. It is not a time to increase taxes."

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