Don't Tax College

Hard for cash, Pittsburgh's mayor wants to establish a new 1% tax on gross college tuition paid by students. It's an awful idea for generating revenue; but unfortunately, Pittsburgh might be able to pull it off without immediate negative consequences.

(from flickr user Niemster)

College has already gotten so expensive to the point that a lot of students now simply roll their eyes and accept these things as another cost of the college experience. At the beginning of every semester, universities bill students for tuition, and then they tack on a bunch of seemingly arbitrary fees and surcharges. Many schools ask for a few hundred bucks for a parking space. Textbooks can be a hundred bucks or more each. When it's all over, it's actually not that difficult to ask students to fork over another few hundred bucks, and they'll do it, because the sticker shock will be long gone and they're numb to the fact that these are large amounts of money.

With any tax, the big risk is that the city becomes dependent and unable to roll it back if there are unintended consequences. If the tax can be successfully implemented, other cities will probably try to copy it, and students across the country will get pushed deeper into debt buying a service that almost no one will argue is bad for them or for society. The best hope is that the courts find this type of tax illegal and we won't have to deal with it at all.