Pittsburgh has dropped a proposal to enact a tax on college students as a way to raise revenue for the city following several weeks of criticism from not only students but the higher education community. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced yesterday that the city would instead focus on a "leap of faith," urging local colleges, nonprofits, and the business community to increase voluntary donations.
At a press conference Monday, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University both pledged to offer larger donations to the city than they had in previous years. Local insurer Highmark also pledged support. About 100 tax-exempt organizations gave a total of $14 million to the city between 2005 and 2007. The 1 percent tuition tax, described as the “Post Secondary Education Privilege Tax” or Fair Share Tax,” would have raised $16 million for the city to cover things like city employees’ pension funds and costs associated with the public library system until the city is able to get a handle on its budget problems. This "voluntary" agreement with the city's institutions only covers the upcoming fiscal year, however, so whether the city would ever revisit a student tax is unclear. The mayor also failed to say how much money would be offered voluntarily, as those deals have not yet been finalized.
The mayor also said he would target the state for more funding to solve the city's budget problems. A new group, the New Pittsburgh Collaborative, will come up with a list of things to ask the state for when the time comes, according to an article today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Previous talks have focused on raising taxes for those who in the city and expanding a tax on currently tax-exempt employees' payrolls, two proposals that would also not be met without resistance.
The fallout from the proposal was immediate. About 100 students came to a Pittsburgh City Council meeting recently to protest the measure, calling the idea "Taxation Without Representation" and a double tax on those students already paying taxes on things like sales items and property. An article in Inside Higher Ed today suggests other institutions of higher education were anticipating the outcome of the student tax to determine whether this could be an option in their cities. Some municipalities without strong support from outside organizations and voluntary contributions from their local colleges and universities may look to pass similar measures anyway, especially if those local economies fail to improve.