College students jam council meeting to protest tuition tax
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Some 150 students, bearing petitions that they said bore 10,150 signatures in opposition to the proposed 1 percent tuition tax, filled Pittsburgh Council Chamber this morning, forming a ring around a council that is expected to vote on the levy next month.
Before council's 10 a.m. public hearing on the tuition tax, students from most of the city's schools of higher education presented petitions and challenged any impression that they contribute little to the city and demand much in services.
"We really, really need to dispel this myth that students are a burden to the city," said Rotimi M. Abimbola, student president at Carnegie Mellon University.
Mackenzie Farone, a Point Park University graduate student who also works for that school, said she was "outraged at the light with which college students were portrayed" during the debate on the tuition tax. She said students rent houses for which property taxes are paid, and work, generating wage taxes. "Let's face it, we are the ones that pay the drink tax," she said, to laughs, referring to Allegheny County's 7 percent tax on served alcohol. "Just being honest."
Students "work hard, we learn, and we strive to better ourselves," she said.
Councilman William Peduto took the same tack, saying that taxes are often placed on "sin" products, like alcohol or tobacco -- but not on self-improvement. "Why would we ever tax education, where somebody is trying to better themselves?" he asked.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl proposed the tuition tax on Nov. 9, saying the city needs $15 million to shore up its pension fund, and that another $1 million from the levy could go to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He has since said, repeatedly, that he would prefer that universities and perhaps other tax-exempt institutions make voluntary payments in the needed amount.
The universities have threatened to sue to invalidate the tax, and state Rep. Paul Costa has said he'll introduce legislation to preempt it, but five of nine council members have said they will vote for it.
"Right now, council is split, 5-4 on this vote," Mr. Peduto told the students before the meeting. "All that has to happen is that one vote has to change."
First Published November 30, 2009 11:07 am