Students cheated out of hard earned money by payroll tax

Most student workers feel a certain sense of satisfaction in receiving their first paycheck of the year. Imagine, however, that after putting in all that work, you receive nothing on your pay day. It?s not an administrative mix-up or a mistake. It?s because Pittsburgh has just raised its occupational tax by over 400 percent, and student workers have paid the brunt of it by having the tax deducted in its entirety from their first pay of 2005.
For many students in part-time or work-study jobs, the deduction of the new occupational tax, now $52, can completely wipe out their paychecks. Previously, the city?s occupational tax was a mere $10. However, due to Pittsburgh?s myriad financial problems, the tax, now ominously named the Emergency and Municipal Services (EMS) tax, has been raised to supplement Pittsburgh?s new budget, which is already scrimping on police and fire service and infrastructure.
The EMS tax allows for those who make less than $12,000 a year to file for a $42 return at the end of the year. Realistically, though, students who go home for the summer or who do not maintain a job for extended periods of time will probably fail to file the appropriate paperwork.
As the likelihood of any student making more than $12,000 is small, it is not fair to subject students to the EMS tax. After all, most students are not even residents of Pittsburgh. As students, we already pay enormous amounts of money for tuition, room and board and textbooks; it is ridiculous to ask us to give up the little money we have made working in the scant free time we own. The city should take into consideration whom they are taxing and be conscientious when taxing low-income students. Carnegie Mellon should be aware of this, too, and would do well to consider subsidizing the cost for those students who would otherwise be unable to afford it.
Within the year, students will find themselves fighting once again to keep the bus services that are vital in the lives of students and other Pittsburgh workers. Fire and police services are already in short supply across the city. While we should help to support the city in which we live, we shouldn?t carry the weight of its financial irresponsibility.
The tax was sudden enough that it left even the University?s Payroll Services at a loss. Payroll was unable to restructure their deduction schedule to accommodate students? needs given the immediate instantiation of the tax. Although the tax is not terribly large, students who depend on their paychecks in full for off-campus housing, grocery bills or school expenses will find themselves empty-handed and at a loss for a good portion of January, and perhaps even later.
It isn?t fair to say that college students at Carnegie Mellon or elsewhere shouldn?t be responsible in any way to support the city in which they live. It?s our obligation to help this city, whether through consumer activity, discussion, or volunteering. However, the city should not put its students at a disadvantage. The sudden occupational tax will take its toll on Carnegie Mellon and student workers, and a heavy one at that.