Moments ago:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and leaders of some of the city’s largest non-profit organizations have reached an agreement that will allow the mayor’s controversial tuition tax to be tabled.

The University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Highmark will make contributions, although they were unspecified.

The awesome:

Pittsburgh is free from this tution tax ridiculousness.

The meh:

This feeling I can’t shake that Lukey got exactly what he originally wanted.  He threatened the universities with a tuition tax that he knew wouldn’t stand up in court, a tuition tax he HAD to know was bad PR for Pittsburgh, a tuition tax that could have easily cost him the next election and for that reason alone we must assume he was playing chicken with the local major nonprofits to force them to either call his bluff or play it safe and donate.

I honestly don’t believe for one iota of a second that Lukey thought the tuition tax would ever be enforced.  It seems to me it came out of a meeting that led off with the question,

Lukey: “We’ve got to fix this pension problem.  Where can we find $16 million dollars?”

Bob: “Could we look internally and trim some fat here?”

Dread Lord: “[bitchslaps Bob] Get your shit and get out of here.  Merry Christmas, you’re fired.”

Lukey: “Too bad we can’t force the nonprofits to give us money.”

Dread Lord: “Oh, but there is a way.  MWAH-HAHAHAH!  A tuition tax!”

Liz: “Um, that doesn’t seem legal.”

Dread Lord: “[shrieks so loud a demon pigeon flies out of his gaping maw of a mouth] DESTROY HER!”

[Lukey’s thuggish bodyguards drag away Liz, who wails, “NOT THE DUNGEON, DREAD LORD! PLEASE!”]

And from that meeting, this convoluted game of chicken was born and Lukey won.


But whatever, NO TUITION TAX!

Merry Christmas, Pittsburgh!


  1. CriticExtraordinaire
    December 21, 2009 10:57 am

    The universities certainly have no “high ground” in this argument. If they were sincere, they would not have ponied up ANY money.

    More power to Luke. The universities think nothing of jacking up tuition at will, 3%-8% EVERY YEAR, and they gobble up properties, taking them off the tax rolls. Yet talk about a 1% tuition tax and they cry foul. Boo hoo.

    It is about time that somebody calls out the so-called “nonprofit community” for what much of it is. While there are many worthy charities, the “nonprofit” community is stained by the many nonprofits (think the schools and UPMC for starters) that are little more than scams to provide overpaid employment to their managements, and overpaid fees to their “consultants”.

  2. PG Wodehouse
    December 21, 2009 10:59 am

    Ginny = back with a vengeance

  3. Jake
    December 21, 2009 11:03 am

    Highmark? I’m confused… How does a tuition tax coerce a gigantic health insurer to come to the bargaining table? Pure PR value?

  4. bucdaddy
    December 21, 2009 11:05 am

    In some circles this will be described as “bold leadership.” I’m not so sure it isn’t. I live in a university-dominated town and sometimes wish someone would hold a gun to its head as well and make it pony up for the vast amount of resources required to deal with an enrollment that seems to have no upward limit while the traffic jams get worse and the hillsides get leveled for more and more cheapass-looking apartments.

    But don’t look for bold leadership when traditionally half the members of city council work for … you guessed it … the university.

  5. Bojack
    December 21, 2009 11:21 am

    $16 million, hmmmm…….

    ANYONE seen the audit/ PAYBACK for the…….hmmmmm

    $16 f’ing million SPENT on G20??????????????


  6. Dan (Not Onarato)
    December 21, 2009 11:51 am

    Would it be safe to say that Lukey is smarter that we think?

    The dude has a set…dont worry Im still not a fan but he has a set

  7. spoon
    December 21, 2009 12:14 pm

    How soon until Lukey spins this that he just saved local higher education millions of dollars.

    Nice job spaz

  8. Mayor Luke Doggy Dogg
    December 21, 2009 12:27 pm


    I done told all yo’ asses, the pimps and the playas of the burgh, that Luke Doggy Dogg and tha Dogg Pound would get what they want.

    “Rollin’ down Grant Street, smokin that endo, sippin on gin and juice…wit my mind on that pension money and that pension money on my mind! Ain’t nothin’ but a Lukey Luke thang bay-be…Lord Zober makes sure tha City of Pittsburgh residents pays’ me.”

  9. Scott
    December 21, 2009 12:41 pm

    I’ve got to say, I think the Mayor played this out like a political tactician. Got the funds we, yes we, need and did so by skillfully applying pressure where needed.

    Well done, Luke.

  10. DMGB
    December 21, 2009 1:49 pm

    Proof that the whole tax idea was a political ploy, and not even enough of a threat to extract more than a couple years of *promises* to talk about something…not v.effective if you ask me. Highmark could pony up more. Should pony up more.

    So no, I don’t see a set.

  11. Jen
    December 21, 2009 2:02 pm

    Tell me again what Luke won in all of this? The non-profits were already giving money to the city through the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund, just not as much as the boy wonder wanted. He tried to get them to commit to $5M, but they said no. Now they have agreed to “make larger voluntary donations to the city than they did in the years 2005 through 2007, but neither they nor city officials would not say how much they will give, nor for how many years.”

    How much is “larger?” I doubt it’s much more than what they had already volunteered to pay. This is just a way for the boy wonder to try to save face, because the tuition tax was such a phenomenally bad idea.

    And CriticExtraordinaire, as much as I agree that universities charge too much and companies like Highmark and UPMC are reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in “nonprofit” from their monopoly on local healthcare, that doesn’t justify the city squeezing them or the students of Pittsburgh to pay for its own epic failure to manage its pension system. How about using that money to reduce tuition and lower health care costs, rather than throwing it down the city’s money hole?

    Pittsburgh, like many other municipalities and states across the country, will continue to careen toward bankruptcy as long as it continues to avoid serious pension reform.

  12. butcher's dog
    December 21, 2009 2:27 pm

    I was really hoping Mayor Luke Doggy Dogg would have commented on the Joe Hardy post.

    If real Mayor Luke has a set, UPMC must have a brass factory ’cause they’re closing Braddock and gutted the “campus” in my up-north town by moving all the OB-GYN out to “streamline” their operations all the while sitting on an obscene pile of excess-but-certainly-not-profits money. I’m pretty sure there’s a special circle in hell for the masterminds of that charade. I can only hope it begins to fill quickly.

    Anyway, the “settlement” cost a bunch of lawywer a whole bunch of money, since the tuition tax won’t be fought in court now since it’s dead. THAT has to be a special-interest group not happy with this news.

  13. Bram R
    December 21, 2009 3:03 pm

    It’s not at all clear to me that Pittsburgh got one red cent from the Universities out of this gambit. Sure, they’re singing “We’ll give more, we’ll do some stuff,” but that’s always been their greatest hit. When the nonprofits (Eds or Meds) show us the money I’ll happily (by which I mean, grudgingly) bestow the title of Brilliant Political Tactician on Sir Luke. Until then, this smells a lot like a facesaver for Square 1.

  14. unsatisfied
    December 21, 2009 3:52 pm

    Scott — are you really Scott R Priester?

  15. Sooska
    December 21, 2009 4:05 pm

    Seems like UPMC and the schools and whomeverelse got into bed with Luke for some reasons known only to them. That is a mighty crowded boudoir.

    wait. Will I be sued now? Perhaps I should rephrase.

  16. spoon
    December 21, 2009 4:11 pm

    heh I thought Jen said “lager” not “larger” and got thirsty for a minute.

  17. Bojack
    December 21, 2009 4:40 pm



    Blow me!!

  18. Craig
    December 21, 2009 4:53 pm

    The very definition of “evil genius.”

  19. Hayduke
    December 21, 2009 4:55 pm

    Seems to me it should be called a “game of pigeon” rather than chicken.

  20. Silica
    December 21, 2009 4:58 pm

    bucdaddy, I’m with you. When I was in undergrad, in a teeny little town that was dominated by the college, the college voluntarily paid enormous sums of money to the town before beginning any construction project, and would guarantee so much money over a 10-year period. Because every time we bought more property and began constructing something else, we were taking away from the tax base as a non-profit institution. Now, I tend to think we had a little more integrity than some of the giant schools in Pittsburgh, but it’s entirely reasonable for the city to expect that universities contribute at least something, because they do need the revenue. They could also stand to fire some people, consolidate the city and county and its services, but the universities should contribute too.

  21. Bram R
    December 21, 2009 5:01 pm

    Actually Ginny, best case scenario in all seriousness, if all does go according to plan and it’s not a bunch of smoke, then the Mayor and Council and the Universities and Hospitals are all going to caravan to Harrisburg to jointly, cooperatively and agreeably ask them to raise the commuter tax … you know, on folks who live in places like Irwin but may own businesses in places like Market Square … MWAAAH HA HA HA HA HAHAHAAA VICTORY IS THEIRS!

  22. Julie
    December 21, 2009 5:24 pm

    Regardless of how you feel about the universities taking up city resources (and it seems many on here seem to feel that a tuition tax, though wholly unconstitutional, is a great way to put money back into the city coffers), what I still can’t wrap my hands around is the fact that college students were being asked to fix a very specific portion of the city government that they, nor the colleges they attend, had absolutely nothing to do with screwing up in the first place. Why should Pitt and CMU be asked to pony up money for an ailing pension fund when the city isn’t doing a damn thing to control, let alone cut, costs on their own??

    My version of the conversatin that initially took place was more like “Well, we’ve taxed just about everything else in this city. What else is there? Oh yeah, those deadbeat college students. They don’t do enough for us. *They* should be the ones to fix our city’s pension fund. We should definitely tax them.”

    Fantastic! Now our population can continue to go down the drain because not only do we have screaming, crying babies as our elected officials, we have screaming, crying babies who want to tax the hell out of everything and everyone they possibly can! Come to think of it, no wonder city government wasn’t able to come up with a plan to fix its pension fund on its own. Babies can’t do budgets. Silly me.

  23. bucdaddy
    December 21, 2009 5:46 pm

    heh I thought Jen said “lager” not “larger” and got thirsty for a minute.

    Dammit, spoon, you went and got me all thirsty too.

    Ummm … thanks! Mrs. daddy and I are going to uncap this growler of Mo’town B.C.’s spicy blonde a little later. Rim the glasses with brown sugar and it’s like drinking gingerbread.

    Mmmmmmm …

  24. Rudolph
    December 21, 2009 6:00 pm

    This is NOT a victory for Luke by any stretch. He asked for $16M, the universities said no. He retreated to consult with his brain trust and came back with, “How about $5M?…but only if you drive it off the lot today” and again the schools said no. The universities stared him down, called his bluff and Luke backed down, settling for some vague deal to try to save face, a deal so unimpressive that the best spin that can be put on it is that it’s more than those 3 non-profits contributed a few years ago.

    What irks the crap out of me is that the press has let Luke tie this whole issue to the city’s pension fund. He framed the tuition tax as a solution to healing the city’s grossly underfunded pension instead of what it really was, an attempt to try to fill a $15M budget hole. Make no mistake; he didn’t propose this tax to fund the ailing pension. He proposed this tax to give himself a new revenue stream to play with since those that he surrounds himself with lack the talent and creativity to manage the city out of the mess one-party rule created.

  25. Different Brian
    December 21, 2009 6:45 pm

    Its hard to pity the “nonprofits” here, but cmon now, what is this, Chicago?

    Lukey: Mighty sweetheart deal ya got there… be a shame if something… happened… to it.

    Next thing ya know, theyre ponying up multiple million dollars… voluntarily… to some fund.

    Again, hard to pity these “nonprofits” that dodge all kinds of liability… I say tax em like every other company. Just quit this “voluntary contribution” crap.

  26. Clementine
    December 21, 2009 10:49 pm

    Ginny, glad to see you back and feeling better!

    Nothing beats you channeling Lukey and the Dread Lord from the inner sanctum of their evil lair. That dialogue is sooo real. You scared me; you really did. :) Now, here’s how they sound in my head:

    Dreads Lord:
    Dude, we need cash money, yo.

    Lukey Boi:
    Tax the man, man. Nonprofits, yo!

    Dreads Lord:
    Nah, the man is slick, yo. We gots to trick ’em.

    Lukey Boi:
    Let me bang some more hos and ponder, yo.

    Dreads Lord:
    FOCUS, BITCH! (slap)

    Lukey Boi:
    Uh… tuition tax?

    Dreads Lord:
    BOI MAY-YUR!! Represent, yo! Now, pass me a ho.

  27. CC
    December 22, 2009 8:09 am


    That Irwin business owner is already getting taxed to the point of making it difficult to be a business owner in the City. The business owners pay their fair share. It would be nice to hear from one. An additional commuter tax? Maybe. But not the business owner. The City already makes it hard enough to own a profitable business within city limits. Have you noticed the empty store fronts downtown?

  28. Scott
    December 22, 2009 9:34 am

    Hey Bojack, the “Blow Me” comment is super classy. Have a great holiday.