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Published: Monday, 3/19/2007

Biting the hand ...

A NATIONAL expert in higher education law has concluded - correctly - that a proposal by a city councilman in Kent to tax Kent State University is "a little goofy." That's certainly the charitable view - we might have put it a bit more forcefully. Relatively small college towns in Ohio like Kent, or Bowling Green, or Athens, or Oxford, thrive largely because of their university anchor.

We thought everyone knew that, but apparently Councilman Edward Bargerstock is the exception. He has raised the possibility of an admissions tax on tuition at Kent State, or perhaps university events, or parking.

Someone needs to explain to Mr. Bargerstock the overwhelming economic benefits institutions like Kent State bring to their home communities. While it is true the very existence of the universities mandate city services and can strain local resources, the trade-off in jobs and commerce is more than substantial.

Some residents of places like Kent and BG might be happy when the college students go home for the summer, but their university is also their major employer and economic generator.

Such benefits certainly offset the local burden to provide extra police and fire protection to a university population. To suggest taxing the hand that feeds you as a way to supplement projected budget shortfalls shows no understanding of what some call the "town and gown" relationship.

Kent, like many other state municipalities, is necessarily exploring how to best raise revenues, balance budgets, maintain services, and jump-start development during tough economic times. But taxing the revenue of a nonprofit institution that is the economic lifeblood of the community is hardly the answer.

What's next, asked one critic, taxing churches and hospitals?

Depending on the budgetary dilemma in Kent, council members may need to consider an array of options to increase revenue. Those could include more financial support from the Board of Regents above the $33,170 paid last year for public safety.

Other revenue enhancements might come from a citywide tax on alcohol sales, or boosting fines for violating city ordinances, or even higher income taxes. But placing an admissions tax on Kent State tuition per semester to raise money for city safety services and other projects would invite a campus revolt.

The cost of higher education in Ohio is already exceedingly steep. It would be almost punitive to treat students and their families - paying staggering tuition bills - as another local tax base to mine for revenue.

Kent officials must find more creative ways to raise much-needed revenue, and Mr. Bargerstock ought to investigate enrolling in Economics 101 at Kent State - tax-free.

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