Thursday, December 29, 2005

Stick it to the....Students!!

In what might be the greatest political move in Minnesota since a Republican tried to run for State Senator from a different district, and was legally barred from appearing on a ballot, Saint Paul City Councilman Jay Benanev is trying to recoup the city's losses from those free-loading colleges.

At a time when budgets are tight, it makes sense to look for new sources of revenue, but it seems to me that charging schools for their students is an age-discriminating way to target those in the population who are least likely to vote in local elections.

Let's think about what David Laird, President of the Minnesota Private College Council calls, "the whole equation."

Benanev's ward includes Hamline and St. Thomas--both are schools that have large off-campus populations. St. Thomas has an undergraduate student body of 5,236 of which 61% live off campus. Hamline is smaller, at 1,872 with 55% living off-campus. So, by some quick math, at just these two schools, 4,223 students will be paying twice for the expensive services the city offers.

The two schools in St. Paul that have the highest rates of on-campus undergrads are Macalester and Bethel, at 69% and 75%, repsectively. All of these are higher than St. Kate's (36%) or Concordia, (24%). This doesn't include any of the community colleges, or the Saint Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota--all of which have lower on-campus totals yet.

What's on the other side of this ledger? Students who are, per dollar earned, huge contributors to the economy of St. Paul. They do their grocery shopping and clothes buying in St. Paul . They study at local coffee shops and hang out on Grand Avenue bars (helping maintain local business and generating sales tax revenue). They provide high-skill, low-cost labor for businesses and non-profits throughout St. Paul helping to maintain it as one of the most livable cities in America.

And most of them do it from apartments and rented rooms around the city. On Grand and Summit, on Selby, or in Mac-Groveland. They pay rent and through their landlords, property tax. They pay income tax, and they pay sales tax.

Mr. Benanev, why are you limitting yourself to just colleges in town? Why not tax all the businesses in St. Paul $25 per customer? If the problem here is really recouping the city's lost income, I think we could start with the amount the city has to spend maintaining roads, and paying transit police for people who's only goal is to (brazenly, I might add) come into the great city of St. Paul, and give it nothing more than a few hours of their time and a few dollars in exchange for simple products sold through local retailers.

Let's add another step. St. Paul should have toll booths set up at every road-entrance to the city. There should be a $2.50 toll for the priviledge of entering Minnesota's Capitol City. What a great idea. Then the taxes would only be on those heretical people who dare live outside St. Paul, or those wayward souls ungrateful enough to leave the city.

C'mon Councilman Benanev, I think there are some much better options than taxing the college students.

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