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Pittsburgh proposes tuition tax

Colleges vowed to fight the 1 percent rate. But their hikes far exceed that, the mayor said.

A 1 percent tuition tax proposed Monday by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is just a nibble compared with the bite that college fees and tuition hikes take out of student and parent wallets, he argued yesterday.

Ravenstahl's attack on tuition and fee hikes came hours after eight leaders of local postsecondary schools gathered to blast the mayor's higher-education tax plan, saying it was illegal and would hurt the institutions' competitiveness. Ravenstahl said that if there was a competitiveness issue, it was the schools' fault.

"There isn't an institution in this city in the last five years that hasn't raised tuition, and in each and every case, the tuition hike has been far greater than 1 percent," Ravenstahl said. The city's proposed addition to the school bill "falls right in line with orientation fees, with transportation and security fees, with lab fees" and more nebulous charges that colleges could reconsider, he said.

The higher education leaders hope for rejection of the tax by City Council, which has been asked to pass a $453.8 million budget that includes $16.2 million from the tuition tax.

"We don't think it's going to pass, because we believe it is illegal, and if it does pass, we will have to do whatever we need to do" to oppose it, said Mary Hines, president of Carlow University and chairwoman of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education. She did not rule out a court battle or a push to get the General Assembly to nix the tax.

Likely to end up in court is the question of whether the state must approve it.