Republican Sen. David Perdue, with other GOP senators and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaks during a news conference on tax reform at the Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Guest opinion: GOP tax plan disadvantages graduate students

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The UI Campaign to Organize Graduate Students urges those in power to ‘defend policies that make higher education a possibility for all instead of a dream for few.’

House Resolution 1 proposes the elimination of numerous sections of IRS Code, including parts of 26 USC §117. Some sections of tax code targeted for repeal protect students trying to achieve the American Dream: Some of them enable graduate students to afford an advanced degree on a meager salary. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on Nov. 16. Though the Senate bill leaves 26 USC §117 intact, it has yet to pass; if it does pass, it is uncertain what the outcome of the conference-committee process to combine the bills would be.

It is important to be clear about the effects of House Resolution 1 on us. It is not obvious that the repeal of §117(d) would increase our tax liability. Our tuition coverage is not a waiver, but a scholarship. 26 USC §117(a) is what exempts tuition scholarships from counting toward our taxable income, and HR 1 in its current form leaves this section intact.

Our mean and median rent is already more than 30 percent of our monthly salary. We are thus already “cost-burdened” according to our own Department of Housing and Urban Development. Raising our taxes will make basic living expenses more difficult to meet and thereby push many graduate students into poverty and out of research and education entirely. Under this proposal, graduate education would only be an option for the independently rich. The uncertainty surrounding this bill, and the targeted attack on those seeking an education, will discourage students at home and abroad from seeking graduate degrees in our schools.

We are opposed to House Resolution 1’s proposed graduate student tax. We ask Iowa’s senators and representatives, Gov. Kim Reynolds, the state Board of Regents, the University of Iowa, and the University of Iowa Graduate College to do all in their power to defend policies that make higher education a possibility for all instead of a dream for few. We urge them to defend the research and teaching missions of the state’s institutions of higher education and the many public benefits they provide for the good people of the state of Iowa.

We urge our members to take immediate action to fight this bill.

Contact Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) as well as senators from your home states. Find their contact information and urge them to vote against any bill that increases tax burdens for vulnerable populations, including graduate students, and to prevent House Resolution 1’s changes to 26 USC §117 from being passed in conference committee. Submit an op-ed about how the proposed graduate-student tax would affect you, your career, or your community. Share your story on social media using #SaveGradEd. Attend our Graduate Student Rally Protesting Tax Reform Bill on Wednesday at 11 a.m. on the Pentacrest.

-UE Local 896/COGS , Coordinating Committee

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