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Ravenstahl to ask council to postpone vote on tuition tax

| Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl plans to ask City Council to wait another week before voting on his proposed 1 percent tax on college students' tuition after holding a "good and productive" meeting Monday with university officials.

Council was scheduled to vote on the so-called "fair share tax" Wednesday.

"We had a good discussion today," Ravenstahl said after a two-hour meeting with the presidents of Carlow, Point Park and Robert Morris universities. "We have, of course, reiterated our interest in avoiding to implement the fair share tax, but also reiterated the only way to do that is to come up with an alternative solution and the identification of $15 million."

The meeting came as state Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, introduced a bill to prevent governments from imposing taxes on postsecondary education tuition.

"I'm trying to protect students and protect parents of students," Costa said about the bill that has 31 sponsors. "This gives a bad perception of the city and it's bad tax."

Neither the universities nor the city have budged on their stands. Ravenstahl expects the tax to generate $16.2 million annually for the city's ailing pension system. City officials say the institutions must pledge higher payments in lieu of taxes before they'll drop the idea of a tuition tax. University officials say the tax needs to be jettisoned before they negotiate with the city.

The university officials who met with Ravenstahl exited the mayor's office through a back door and did not return calls seeking comment.

Ravenstahl said the meeting wasn't a "negotiating session." He said they discussed no specific deals.

"What we tried to do is communicate to them what the city needs, what our interests are, and how we best move forward from here," he said. "I do think it's important for the nonprofit community to do more in the City of Pittsburgh. ... The city has a revenue issue. It needs $15 million, and it needs it soon."

Councilwoman Tonya Payne, one of four members who support Ravenstahl's tuition tax and met Friday with university officials, described that meeting as "productive."

"It may, it really may, change council's vote," she said.

Costa said he has helped Pittsburgh from the state level throughout his career, but couldn't stand by while the tuition tax gained support among council members. A slight majority of council members have said they approve.

Ravenstahl said he would oppose Costa's bill.

"If we do pursue the fair share tax and pass it, we will intend to, of course, vehemently oppose Rep. Costa's bill and we'll ask the residents of the city to do that as well, because it's irresponsible to say 'you can't do this' without coming up with a solution to the problem."

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