NEW PROGRESSIVE IDEAS IN TAXATION: Pittsburgh's "tuition tax"

Taxes help stop bad behavior. There are taxes on cigarettes to help you to stop smoking. There are taxes on gasoline to help you save the planet. There might be “fat taxes” on certain foods to help you lose weight. Now comes Pittsburgh’s “tuition tax,” helping you to stop educating yourself for a better job.

From Wednesday’s New York Times:

Pittsburgh Sets Vote on Adding Tax on Tuition
Published: December 15, 2009
The mayor of Pittsburgh calls it the “Fair Share Tax.” But to officials at the city’s 10 colleges and universities and many of their 100,000 students, it is anything but.

On Wednesday, the City Council is expected to give preliminary approval to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s proposal for a 1 percent tuition tax on students attending college in Pittsburgh, which he says will raise $16.2 million in annual revenue that is needed to pay pensions for retired city employees. Final Council action will be on Monday.

The tax would be the first of its kind in the nation, and other cities are watching closely as they try to find ways to close their own budget gaps.

Students and college officials argue that the tax will drive students away and place an unfair burden on institutions that already contribute substantially to the city. They add that the measure comes at an especially difficult time for colleges, as endowment values have fallen and requests for financial aid have risen.

This can’t happen! This is the Age of Obama! Didn’t Joe Biden guarantee that everyone can go to college? Wasn’t college supposed to be free, like healthcare?

Get used to taxes, kids!

Love the name “Fair Share Tax.” Whenever I see the words “fair share,’ it means the government is sticking it to some poor working sap who’s already paying too much. The kids aren’t going to pay this tax. It’s their overburdened parents in their 40s and 50s who have the bill.

Where is the “fair share” going to? Union retirees, of course. You had to ask? Where did you think the money was going–to government services for the students paying the tax?

The proposed tax is $20 for a community college and $400 for Carnegie Mellon.

NewsBusters provides some comments:

It will surprise no one that the tax-creative Ravenstahl is a Democrat. Though the situation may change in future updates, it will further surprise no one that the AP didn’t name his party.
As to the tuition tax, though the best tax is usually one that doesn’t exist, this particular assessment might have a backhanded benefit. A levy so visible and so onerous might make collegians a bit more skeptical of the non-stop statism so many of their profs promulgate.

The Big Fat Finance Blog lists this in the “Top 10 Wacky Taxes 2009,” right there with the Illinois candy tax, the New York limo tax, the Oregon birdseed tax, the Illinois flu shot tax, the Tennessee crack tax, the Missouri yoga tax, the Botax, Germany’s coffee import tax, and Utah’s strip club tax.

What if you live in Pittsburgh and enroll in an online university? Is that taxed, too? I guess so, if it charges tuition. Because the Pittsburgh government provides all those extra services for those studying online.

The bottom line, as I’ve said again and again, is that public officials must take on the unions. Politicians are in the unions’ pockets. The most frequent visitor to the president of the United States has been the head of SEIU. Pittsburgh has a pension problem? It’s far from the only city in that regard.

But no, ignore the problem completely, and keep on raising taxes in every way you can.

Let’s have every city in the country pass a tuition tax–excuse me, “fair share tax.” It’s Obama’s America, after all.

Surely, the students will grade it a B+?