City Council considers tabling proposed student tax

By Drew Singer

Some City Council members want this morning’s vote on the proposed student tax to be tabled,… Some City Council members want this morning’s vote on the proposed student tax to be tabled, which would give officials more time to explore alternatives.

In preparation for this morning’s preliminary vote on the proposed 1 percent tuition tax, City Council members spent their respective days yesterday meeting with university representatives and one another well into the evening.

Councilwoman Tonya Payne — whose district includes South Oakland and Downtown — has previously shown support for the tax, but said she’s keeping an open mind.

Payne, who met with representatives from Pitt and Point Park yesterday, said delaying the decision until next week will gain much-needed time for officials on both sides of the debate.

“All of our goals are the same: We don’t want to tax students,” she said. “Getting to that goal may be different for some of us, so we all need to get to the same page to make sure it happens.”

Payne said she expected Council members to work into the night yesterday, vying for one another’s votes.

Pitt grad student Daniel Jimenez, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, said he was one of the people who met with Council members yesterday.

“I think we got across to the Council that this isn’t a fair tax and students are already paying their taxes,” he said. “It would have a negative impact on students and the public’s perception of the city.”

Jimenez said he expects today’s 10 a.m. vote to result in the tax being tabled, but as of last night, the one-week hold wasn’t a guarantee.

“I’m not sure that that’s going to happen yet,” Payne said. “People tend to fall off the bandwagon. We need to make sure that we’re sticking together.”

While these developments come less than one day after 150 students flooded a public hearing in protest of the tax, Council members downplayed the seemingly sudden change of direction, saying that changes have been in the works for a while.

“It’s what we’ve been trying to do for over a month,” Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said. “We’re at the point where we’re opening up conversation.”

Kail-Smith, who has shown support for the tax in the past, said she’s still looking for the right resolution.

“I’m not changing my stance,” she said, “but we’re working on it.”

Kail-Smith, whose district includes Mount Washington and Crafton, said she was also one of the Council members who met with Pitt officials today.

Councilman Bill Peduto, whose district includes North Oakland and Shadyside, also called for tabling the tax in today’s vote.

Peduto has been against the tax since its proposal, calling it illegal.

“This is a regressive tax that targets a segment of the community that can least afford to pay it,” Peduto said in a news release. “We should never tax people that are working to better themselves.”

Payne defended her support for the tax as a last-resort solution to a problem decades in the making.

“I don’t think that, 30 or 40 years ago, government ever thought that they just wouldn’t be able to pay their employees great pension and health care for life. They didn’t see all of this coming,” she said. “The past has happened, and we’re in a point right now where we have to figure out a way to solve a problem today.”

Payne said City Council is working with state legislators to find alternatives to the direct tax on students, but if that didn’t happen, local government and Pittsburgh’s nonprofit institutions will have to compromise.

“There are a lot of creative and bright people in government,” she said. “People have to leave their egos at the door.”

Peduto said Monday that the Council had five members in favor of the tax and four against it.