Monday, November 16, 2009

Tax Students Tuition at Pittsburgh Universities? No Way!

Hey World Family,

Falcon is about to have a little rant: apparently, no one in the mayor’s office understands how funding for university students works because a plan to tax student tuition 1% is the stuff that comes across as embarrassing as a suggestion to the even slightly informed, much less those who fully comprehend what a region-killer this tax would be.

An overview: the city of Pittsburgh needs to offset some of its pension fund deficits. I get that. Suggestion: tax the TUITION of college students attending Pittsburgh universities-INSANE! Why? One: it’s illegal. Two: the tax funds would end up coming right out of families’ pockets because it is highly unlikely that any student aid in any form would cover it. Three: on principle alone, it would drive students to attend schools located out of the city and possibly out of the region entirely. Four: the tax wouldn’t be even; it would be burdensome to the students who could afford to pay it the least. Let me explain.

Tuition (not meal plans, housing, etc. but just the cost of the education itself) is something that can be covered in a variety of ways. Cash is obviously the favorite, but there are other ways: federal funding, independent scholarships, university merit scholarships, sports scholarships (NCAA, NAIA) and private donations. These are put in place to pay for the cost of a student’s education, NOT a tax on the cost of that education. No one pays the same amount.

At a state funded school, in-state residents pay one tuition, out of state students pay a higher tuition. At a private university, it is the same for all usually. If a student receives a merit scholarship (think discount) from the university that they are attending, then they only pay the difference. The tax would be based on that which is billed to the student and their family. A student who was not fortunate enough to get merit money will pay the full tax amount. Not fair, is it? Further, if they are making ends meet by threads, it is highly likely that the funds would have to come out of their pocket: not federal money (can’t go for something like that), nor private scholarship money, and certainly not NCAA money. That will be family money. Since we already know that there is a HUGE inequity in the way merit money is handed out around here (minority students are at a HUGE disadvantage at certain public schools; private schools are much more generous with merit aid), then guess who pays more money again??? Those who can least afford it.

Out of state students and international students who did not have merit scholarship money would really pay, since their tuition is the highest, yet they come the farthest to attend. Once again, is this remotely fair? Of course not.

Universities in the region may be on non-taxable land, but they also give a lot to the city and the county through bringing in some of the most gifted students from this region and the world to our doors. They help with security in areas of shared space like all of Oakland, and in the North Side during game times, since the football games are played at Heinz Field for the University of Pittsburgh. I would tend to think that they spend a lot more on security than they would if they were an enclosed campus in the country. They don’t charge the city for that.

This shared relationship is sacred, and keeping it in balance is the key to reducing crime, keeping students safe, and giving them an enriching experience in one of the finest cities in the world. All of that gets tainted by the idea that the city wants to tax the tuition of students whose hard working parents’ money pours into the city in so many ways because their son or daughter attends a university within the city borders.

To ask families from Pittsburgh to once again foot a bill in an indirect and illegal manner for a city whose fiscal woes were not caused by them is inappropriate.

Being a solution centered kind of women, I do have some suggestions as to where they can get some additional funding for the pension accounts. Current employees recognize that in order to garner the pension they have worked so hard for, they may need to put more in. The city can cut costs by going greener faster. Instead of just going for the proverbial ‘low hanging fruit’, the city needs to start looking at retrofitting, conservation, and renovation moves that get funding from elsewhere, but will save the capital budget millions. There are brilliant people working in city government in the city of Pittsburgh; let’s get to work on how to make this work, rather than burdening the most vulnerable working citizens one more time.

Oh, and one more thing: education is a right, not a privilege. Americans have the right to be properly educated to qualify their acquired skills for the greatest opportunity for enfranchisement for themselves and by extension, their community. College education should not be enjoyed simply by the privileged, but by all who aspire academically to that goal. It is vile to think someone could come up with an arbitrary tax on the cost of that vision.

Falcon and Dove

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