Though the news is about two weeks old, the resolution in Pittsburgh of a stand-off between the mayor's office and the city's 11 universities represents a commendable yet sadly rare bit of common sense out of the political world. Until an agreement by the universities to increase 'voluntary payments' to the city was made on December 21, the mayor had threatened to add a 1% tuition tax to the fees of students attending school in the city. However, by dropping the threat to put the tax to a vote, the mayor resisted an urge to solve a short-term budget problem with a idea that made little long-term economic sense.
The threat, though perhaps made simply as a bargaining chip after the schools had initially refused to increase their voluntary payments, represented one of the worst examples of political problem solving in some time, and would have resulted only in detrimental effects to both students and city. Students contribute greatly to a community, both directly and indirectly. For example, though universities have exemptions on some property taxes, they do pay other fees and provide citizens with well-paid and steady jobs. Students spend money in the community, provide buoyancy to the rental market, and provide cheap labor for area businesses. Long- term, quality universities also results in a better-trained, more educated work force, important particularly for a city trying save an economy held down for years under the crushing weight of a failed steel industry. Any additions to already sky-high tuitions and expenses would have been the best way to push high-quality students away, and are completely contrary to a strategy of attracting and retaining quality additions to a transforming work force.
Though it is not particularly clear what the voluntary payments will amount to, where they will come from, or whether they are actually a tax on students that will simply be disguised as higher tuition fees down the road, the abandonment of this tax plan seems, for the moment, to be a bit of common sense. Here's hoping the decision goes on to head a list of trends, rather than exceptions, in the new year.