City should charge college students small tuition tax

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Pittsburgh is host to thousands of residents who take full advantage of the city’s services without paying any property taxes back to the city. Instead of tracking them down, the city lauds them as examples of what the city has to offer. These residents are known as college students.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported last Monday that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was considering taxing college students 1 percent on their tuition costs, along with several other unconventional taxes. With my opinions on the misguided tax on hospital bills aside, taxing Pittsburgh’s college students is an ingenious concept.

Many Carnegie Mellon undergraduate students live on campus in dorms. They are paying the university to live in these spaces, but the students themselves do not contribute any money to the city in the form of property taxes. Still, they expect to be able to use water and electricity provided by the city and emergency response should they set their building on fire by leaving their popcorn in the microwave for too long.

Consider also the students who foolishly do nothing but homework, avoiding putting themselves in the real world by slinging burgers at McDonald’s or stacking cans at Giant Eagle. If students are not working real jobs, they are not paying income taxes, shirking two outlets for contributing to a city that coddles them like the spoiling mother who lets her son stay with her into his 40s.

Of course, graduate students — along with a sizable portion of the undergraduate population — do live in standard apartments, or they may even lease houses, separating them from the freeloading bums like those taking up space in Doherty Apartments or Mudge House.

This clearly brings to mind a slightly different tax. Rather than a blanket tax on all students’ tuition, the city could tax resident students on their room costs, bringing these inequities at least a little closer to a more fair level.

Of course, that would mean that resident students would have to pay an even higher tax to make up for the number of students who would be contributing to the city under Ravenstahl’s plan — an option that would cause unnecessary uproar due to this newly introduced inequity.

For the unfortunate student working to pay Carnegie Mellon’s nearly $20,000 tuition, every cent counts. The $200 is at least a month of food that student has to forego. Can we get a need-based scholarship on our taxes?

Ravenstahl’s proposition is a good one. Now all it needs is a little refinement to make it more practical.