In the “been there, tried that” department, Evanston residents may watch with some interest developments in the effort by the mayor of Pittsburgh to impose a tuition tax on college students.

In the “been there, tried that” department, Evanston residents may watch with some interest developments in the effort by the mayor of Pittsburgh to impose a tuition tax on college students.

The New York Times Wednesday reported that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has asked the City Council to postpone a vote on the tax for a week in hopes the city’s 10 colleges and universities will agree to provide economic help to the city voluntarily,

Ravenstahl is under pressure to hold a vote on the measure before the end of the year because two supporters of the plan will be leaving the council then.

And state lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban municipalities in Pennsylvania from imposing such a tax.

In 1989 the Evanston City Council adopted a tuition tax advocated by then 4th Ward alderman Jack Korshak, but the ordinance was vetoed by then Mayor Joan Barr.

Related links

Pittsburgh delays vote to tax tuition (New York Times)

Nearly 300 comments on the Times story

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Another town wrestles with tuition tax
    As a lifetime resident who has seen the tax rolls diminish, the Community Chest emptied and property tax obligations soar… I am hopeful that the new administrations at City Hall and at Northwestern… Can make sensible choices for our futures.

    I am rather certain that our Founding Town Fathers did not anticipate the practice of removing residential (and I’d add commercial too) property from the tax rolls – gifting its use to Educators tax free allowing them to use Civic resources such as schools and other amenities without paying a fair share.

    In my humble opinion, the +150 year old tax free covenant is no longer valid and some reasonable solution should be found for the removal of properties from the tax rolls that are not directly used for educational purposes.

    Brian Becharas

  2. NU Land—nothing like it orginally was
    Take a look at the original land map of what was for NU. It went to Central and Asbury. What would Evanston be if NU had not ‘given it back’ ?

  3. Excuse me, what schools are
    Excuse me, what schools are being used for free? For faculty and staff members to place their kids in Evanston schools, they need to be Evanston residents. The following information might be shocking: faculty and staff don’t live on property exempt from taxes — they don’t live in the university campus at all. Perhaps only the university president does this, and I’m not even sure of that. At any rate, faculty and staff pay their fair share, and local business benefit from university events (think of hotels and restaurants, busy for faculty and student recruiting, graduation, athletic events, etc). Do you think Evanston could sustain those business without the university? Why do you think the city of Chicago keeps trying to lure Northwestern to build new facilities in Chicago rather than Evanston?

    And another shocking piece of news: the “Founding Town Fathers” were the founders of Northwestern University. The university pre-dates the existence of Evanston. As a matter of fact, the NU founders submitted to a county judge their plans for a city to be named “Evanston” in 1854. Who gifted what to whom?

    The university president, at least one university vice president and a number of faculty members live in properties that are exempt from property taxes and are located on or near what is commonly defined as the campus.
    But you are correct that the vast majority of university employees who live in Evanston are paying property taxes like other home owners here do.
    — Bill

    1. How many faculty members are
      How many faculty members are we talking about? One, two dozens, a 100? NU has around 3,000 full time faculty members and maybe close to 5000 staff members. Do any Evanston residents really have a problem with the NU president living on campus? I’ve been in Evanston for a decade now and I’m sick of tirades that imply those who work at NU free ride and don’t pay taxes to Evanston.

      Most university properties were never taken off the tax roll — they were never in the city tax roll (1800 Sherman Ave is an exception). NU is a net seller of land, not a net buyer. Furthermore, a university is a steady employer with an educated labor force (and thus most likely earning relatively high wages).

      Perhaps there is an assessment of NU that shows the university is a net cost to Evanston? Please post the link. I know only of the NU 2006 estimates.

  4. Excuse me, what schools are
    OK, I could be wrong…(and admittedly a little knee jerky) I suggest the rumor mill needs to be addressed and debunked with real data. And for the record, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Northwestern University and their many contributions to the City and Citizens… but but it’s hard to deny that money is and will continue to be an issue.

    In my humble opinion, when taxpayers see their infrastructure crumbling and their debt, property taxes and deficit climbing… having an institution in town with billions of dollars in their endowment taking things off the tax rolls (like 1800 Sherman) and generally parsimonious about direct community giving/funding/sharing leads to resentment. Please see also:

    The Chicken v Egg thing is getting old. This is a symbiotic relationship (Methinks an occasional fire truck is nice but not directed at what the community really needs).

    And finally, I am continually amazed how many people named “Anonymous” live in Evanston! I dare you to step out of the shadows…

    Humbly, Brian Becharas

    1. So, what’s your point?
      So, what’s your point? Because NU has an endowment, the city should do all possible to raid it? What is it with this pang of socialism? I may not agree with some spending policies of the university, but I appreciate the stewardship of its resources. For example, NU does not have a defined benefit pension plan for its employees. The city’s DB plan unfunded liabilities is a major problem for the city. Why should NU give unrestricted funds to the city if its politicians are not willing to put the house in order? Money is an issue, indeed, but NU is in no way responsible for mismanagement and promises made by elected officials with a short term horizon.

      There is no chicken and egg story here: NU existed prior to Evanston and created the town. It created the tax roll. If you just look at property, there is not much that has been taken off tax rolls. 1800 Sherman is the one example I know about (any others?). Simply put, to take something off the tax roll requires that it be in the tax roll to begin with.

      1. NU’s endowment
        When these people bring up the issue of NU’s endowment, they are ignoring some important issues:

        1. NU’s endowment is used to support Northwestern. This means providing scholarships to low income students, funding research, or maintaining buildings. If NU were to get in the business of subsidizing the local government, they would have less money for financial aid and research.

        2. People gave NU money with the expectation that it would be used to support NU’s mission.
        Some of the endowment is restricted.
        For example, the tiny amount of money that Chuckie Dawes gave to NU was used to support his giant white elephant house and to archive his papers. I would prefer that that money be used to fix sidewalks in Evanston, but the University is not free to do that.
        Other donors have endowed named professorships in medicine, science, or business – and they expect the interest on their contribution to support those positions.

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