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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl agrees to drop tuition tax 

(Below is the text of a news release issued this morning by the Pittsburgh Council of Higher Education, representing the presidents of its 10 member institutions, including Robert Morris University.)

Pittsburgh -- The Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education (PCHE) welcomes today's announcement by Mayor Ravenstahl that a tuition tax on students will no longer be pursued by the City as a revenue solution for the legacy challenges presented by its historically underfunded pension plans.  PCHE has long acknowledged the seriousness of those challenges for the City and for City taxpayers, including many of our own students and employees. PCHE has recommended a broad-based coalition that will secure a long-term structural solution to these challenges. Based on today's announcement, PCHE welcomes the opportunity to partner with the City and others in such a collaborative endeavor.

However, PCHE rejected the proposed tuition tax as bad public policy and as a measure that did not serve the best interests either of the City or of the students who choose to study here.  Should such a proposal re-surface at any point in the future, we would again vigorously oppose it from that same principled position.

The colleges and universities will continue to be part of the solution, as the non-profit community and others step up once again to assist the City. However, this time the efforts will not be to plug a hole in the budget, but to work together to find permanent funding streams to resolve the pension problem.  In agreeing to partner with the City, other non-profit organizations and the business community to creatively identify funding strategies, PCHE believes a broad-based Pittsburgh collaborative deliberatively working on multiple solutions will provide a model for other municipalities which face similar financial problems.

We Presidents have been proud of the involvement of our students, who chose to step forward by the thousands to have their voices heard by government and the public.  They affirmed that they like being in Pittsburgh and that many will remain after graduation as employees and residents.  They demonstrated that they are already significantly engaged in Pittsburgh, where they live, work, study, pay taxes, and volunteer hundreds of thousands of service hours to communities and businesses.  It is our hope that the outcome of their recent political efforts will be their further engagement in the political, cultural, social, financial and service sectors of our City.  Our students want to experience the best of what Pittsburgh has to offer, and will continue contributing their best to Pittsburgh.

Finally but very importantly, PCHE thanks those who played key roles in getting us to this point.  We always will be grateful to members of City Council who stood with us from the beginning, to the members of the Legislature who stepped forward to offer their support, to the City Controller and the members of the ICA who expressed professional reservations about the legality of the tax proposal, and to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development for expressing its opposition to the proposal as a matter of public policy.  We are also grateful to the members of City Council who fostered meaningful dialogue to advance the long-term interests of the City at large and to the Mayor for re-considering his position.

The members of PCHE have long been important contributors to the strength and vitality of the City of Pittsburgh. We are also firm believers in approaches that are unifying and not divisive within our own community.  As has been noted, then, we look forward to participating actively in the coalition that is being forged by the Mayor to find solutions to the City's fiscal problems and to build an even better Pittsburgh.