Thursday, November 12, 2009


So, are we foe or agin taxing college students to help cover the City’s budget? I mean, if Ravenstahl proposed it …

No, seriously, I think everyone would agree that the universities are one of the three groups of big not for profits in town. The other two groups would be hospitals like UPMC and West Penn Allegheny, and health insurance companies like UPMC and Highmark. Now, I know that historically Universities are these sort of shabby institutions chronically short of money, making do and getting by on a shoestring. Sort of.

In fact Pitt is a big, big research institution, with lots of Federal and some private money. CMU is also pretty big on research, allow not having such a direct connection to a medical school and medical center, CMU doesn’t have the bioscience thing going as much. Plus Pitt has picked up a billion in donations, and has nationally ranked sports teams (CMU has not mastered the art of fully tapping rich nerds apparently, nor does Ultimate Frisbee get the TV time it so richly deserves). So we can all agree there is money there, but some ask, what is fair? Bram asks whether it is fair to ask CMU students for $400 when commuters are only asked for $52? Chris Potter suggests that students are easy to tax because they don’t vote, except for Obama (at least once). And keg night (NO, I MADE THAT UP).

There is another question of whether we can levy taxes ourselves. Apparently there is an act that says we can (522? Or is that a State route?), although others say no. I think the prudent thing to do while we are still in Act 47 status is not to poke the State Legislature in the eye.

So what is fair with regard to students, and what about the other not for profits? I think we should charge students a fee, not a tax. No one says the City can't impose fees, it is only limited to taxes. Since fee implies a flat amount, I would suggest $52 a year, just like those commuters (and us City residents who work in the City). Maybe those institutions who charge less than $12,000 a year tuition should be exempt (even as people who make less than $12,000 a year are exempt from the municipal services tax). I’m looking at you, CCAC.

Since that won’t get Ravenstahl his 15 mil a year extra, we should also levy a $52 a year fee on health insurance policies written. That should help UPMC and Highmark to decide what to do with tens of millions in “excess revenue”. And finally let us levy a $1 a night fee on hospital beds occupied. The logic there: the $52 a year commuter fee is one dollar a week. for a year. Charging by the week for hospital beds is not really practical, so I suggest by the night. Perhaps for long term care facilities (nursing homes or rehab facilities) the $1 per week of occupancy would be more appropriate. Altogether it might get close to the 15 mil.

That’s my suggestion. What’s your stance? (flashing on Allstate)


Tom said...

Confusion seems to reign. Every article I read goes back and forth between "It's illegal" and "It's unenforcable" and "Luke has the votes" and "PG thinks it's not the best idea, but the only idea"...

Which is it? It seems at least like something that would be tied up for some time in the courts as the schools sued the city. How much would that cost?

It also seems a convenient dodge for the city. They got into debt trouble and looked around for a group with money and no clout to fight back. Students. This isn't to fund city services in Oakland. That is already funded. This is to bail out the city's bad management.

Mount Washington Brain Trust & Pipe Club said...

The difference between $52 for commuters and $400 for students is quite shocking. Especially since one group earns an income and the other is merely trying to educate themselves enough to earn one some day.

Well reasoned posting.

EdHeath said...

Thank you both for your comments.

Tom, I had always heard that the City could not create new taxes on it's own, but now I think the Mayor was referencing some Act I have never heard of. Especially considering our Act 47 status I don’t see much hope for this tax in the courts.

Mt Wash, yeah, the disparity between what a CMU student and an average commuter would pay is pretty stark. And that UPMC and Highmark are not obligated at all ought to annoy both the commuter and the CMU student.