Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says he is going ahead with his 1% tax on tuition paid to Pittsburgh colleges and universities and he will let the lawyers sort it out in court. Ravenstahl says he will be separating the 2010 budget and the tuition tax and moving forward with both at the same time. The mayor will build a balanced budget without the $16 million from the tax and submit that to council and the oversight boards. He says that budget will be full of one-time revenues sources and Band-Aids but it will not include major cuts to city services. At the same time, the 5 members of council (Ricky Burgess, Darlene Harris, Theresa Kail-Smith, Tonya Payne, Jim Motznik) on his side will pass what he calls the “fair share tax.” In the New Year the city will try to collect the tax and Ravenstahl says he expects the schools to file suit to stop him. He says, “We will win that fight.”
The administration will also have to submit a 5-year plan. Ravenstahl says that document will also not include the tuition tax but it will have to include cuts to public safety, parks and public works.
The mayor and the 5 council members say they are willing to negotiate with the non profits in the city to find a way to add $16 million to the $1.6 million already expected in the form of payments in lieu of taxes. They say if that happens they will kill the tuition tax altogether. Ravenstahl says, “I hate the tax,” however he says he feels he has no other choice. To his critics, Ravenstahl says if they have a better plan he wants to hear it.
Ravenstahl says he is focusing on the universities because they use more city services than the hospitals and other non-profits. He will not be asking the state legislature to approve the tax. He is not taking that route partially because he feels there is no need to get the authority and partially because he feels there are better options if the legislature is to get involved. He lists an increase of the commuter tax from $52 to $144 a year and an extension of the payroll prep tax to non-profits among them.
Councilman Jim Motznik says if students and their parents want to be mad they should not look at the mayor or council, they should look to the universities that have not been paying their fair share.