This spring, the city Providence, Rhode Island announced plans to impose a $150 per semester tax on students attending the city’s colleges and universities, and now the city of Pittsburgh is moving in the same direction.

The Providence student tax is still working its way through the Rhode Island state legislature, along with a companion law that would allow the city to impose some direct taxes on private universities.

That companion bill reveals the motvation behind these new laws — to go after students if you can’t reach the universities themselves. Major private universities have enormous power, and they benefit from huge tax breaks. Taking them on directly is tricky, and carries potential bad consequences, so Providence and Pittsburgh are hoping students present a softer target.

October 14 update: See the comments to this post for a more detailed discussion of the pros and cons of the student tax.