As an alum of one of the fine Pittsburgh universities I read with glee wunderkind Luke Ravenstahl’s desire to tax tuition in order to make the burden of city services “more fair.” He has a point – when I lived in the city years ago I remember an amazing stat about something like a third of the property in the city limits having a tax-exempt status. Lots of universities and churches, and I believe homes of the elderly are included. As a result, property taxes in the city are insane for workers. (We looked at a house in Squirrel Hill and we thought there was an extra zero on the estimated tax bill.)
Why should I be gleeful? One of the chief reasons why the very rich and very young are liberal is because they don’t have skin in the game like the rest of us in the middle. Any move to tax college students, however misguided, is a good thing for us. Perhaps students will rethink their approach to taxes. Perhaps they’ll think twice about using taxes as a solution. Perhaps their activism will be blunted a little and even reversed. Many of us fear the taxation tipping point where a majority of voters no longer pay taxes. This reverses that trend a little.
Unfortunately I’m not hopeful. Tuition taxes, like many other expenses, will get rolled into loans and aid packages. Costs that aren’t palpable don’t have the same impact as those that are. When I worked for a small company the CEO had a rule to sign every check personally so they could maintain a pulse on cash flow. We know that college and healthcare costs have inflated like crazy in recent years. I suspect this is due to the lack of clarity and the absent pain of reaching into one’s pocket and pulling out greenbacks.