Monday, December 14, 2009

No Deal After 2.5 Hours of Tuition Tax Talks

Two hours of debate in Pittsburgh City Council Chambers did little to help reach a solution to the stalemate between the city’s universities and colleges and the City Council and the Mayor. Each side has firmly entrenched themselves. The council and the mayor say they will vote for a 1-percent tuition tax if the schools do not come forward with at least 5 million dollars and the heads of the universities say they will not negotiate until the threat of the tax is removed. During the Post Agenda meeting councilwoman Darlene Harris noted that council efforts to get a payment in lieu of taxes on the books in August resulted in no response from every schools except Pitt. The universities say they have offered to fund the now defunct “public service fund” but the mayor is unwilling to talk. Councilwoman Theresa Smith, who chaired the meeting, says maybe they can all move along on parallel paths so no one is giving in on their position. She suggests that the universities can each put in writing what they are willing to contribute to the fund while the council moves on its tax. Then if the number present to the mayor is acceptable the council can kill the tax and the schools can officially make their commitments. Smith says she thinks the deal can be done in time to stop a final vote next week. Council is expected to take a preliminary vote Wednesday. Councilman Doug Shields offered a suggestion that the city make new and concerted efforts to get the state legislature to help with new tax plans. He says he will need the help of the universities to make those efforts possible. He says he will need their research capabilities and their powers of persuasion. Among Shields ideas: income tax revenue sharing, shared state and municipal healthcare plans, and statewide pension contribution law changes. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary President Bill Carl says he has a few ideas that he has brought in from his days in Texas and he thinks other university presidents may have a few ideas of their own that they could share. At the same time though, Chatham University President Esther Barazzone told members of council that she will not talk with an Ax over her head. Councilman Ricky Burgess says two armies are facing each other and he wants to know why the schools’ army is unwilling to negotiate. Barazzone says the council’s army has already fired the first shot.

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