City proposes "fair share tax" on tuitions
Last Monday, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl proposed a 1 percent “fair share tax” that would add about $400 to Carnegie Mellon’s annual tuition. The mayor proposed the tax in order to fill a $15 million void in the city budget for pensions and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system. If enacted, the tax would be the first to tax college tuition in any city in the nation.
Carnegie Mellon’s official position is with the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education (PCHE), a coalition of all Pittsburgh colleges and universities, which opposed the tax at a press conference last Tuesday.
“Mayor Ravenstahl wants to solve his budget problems by taxing this financially stressed group of students. I can’t find fairness in this proposal,” said the president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP), Don Francis, in a press release.
Student Body President Rotimi Abimbola, a senior double major in political science and international relations, voiced her opinions, much in line with the AICUP.
“To be honest, [my initial reaction was] that it was absolutely preposterous. I am shocked that the mayor thinks that $400 is just spare change to us,” Abimbola said.
Abimbola also brought the issue back to a lack of mayoral involvement with students.
“It felt like another low blow after he had failed to show up at the Mayoral Forum that Student Government [at Carnegie Mellon] hosted a week before the election,” she said.
Teresa Thomas, assistant vice president for media relations at Carnegie Mellon, mentioned in an e-mail the contributions that Carnegie Mellon students already make to the city.
“Last year, students, faculty and staff logged more than 117,000 hours of community service to the region’s schools and cultural institutions,” Thomas said. “Many students work in Pittsburgh, some holding down multiple jobs. We support the use of mass transit and the city’s museums. Working students pay the city a range of taxes from wage to real estate and fees.”
On Thursday, Student Senate Chair Aaron Gross, a junior social and decision sciences major, identified such benefits as the reason behind Carnegie Mellon’s and Pittsburgh colleges’ roles as an “economic engine” for the city.
Abimbola echoed both Gross and Thomas when she said, “The state of the city’s finances is not our fault. We are the life of the city. We will continue to make great contributions to the city, but I don’t think we are giving less than we should be.”
The official position of Student Senate is against the tax. In a unanimous vote, Senate agreed Thursday to pass a preliminary resolution against the “fair share tax.”
Students mentioned ideas such as a night of all Pittsburgh college students boycotting Oakland and Southside to show the city just how much they contribute to local businesses. Senate has formed a special committee for this issue. They met for the first time this past Saturday and will be planning how to work within Carnegie Mellon, with other Pittsburgh schools, and with the city to fight the proposed tax.
Students at the Senate meeting mentioned a long list of problems, including double taxing if a student’s family lives in Pittsburgh and the added burden placed on the institutions to cover these fees as part of the cost of attendance.
“The student’s eligibility for aid would be based upon the inclusion of this fee in his overall educational expenses,” said Linda Anderson, director of student financial aid at Carnegie Mellon.
Anderson, Thomas, and the press release from AICUP all indicated they did not expect that this bill would pass. The AICUP added in their press release that if it were to pass, they would be prepared to take the city to court for the legality of such a tax.
The vote is expected by the end of this year. With weeks left in the semester, there is little time left to fight the tax, according to Gross.
“I was a part of the Students for Obama group that did a lot of work on campus last spring. In that time, I saw students at Carnegie prove that we are not apathetic. I think that the mayor’s office and some city council members are under the impression that college students will not organize themselves to fight against [this]. We will, and when we do, we will shake up the city,” Abimbola said.