House passes budget with impact on graduate students

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By: Charles Roop | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 16, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The U.S. House passed their tax plan Thursday, which proposed making graduate student tuition waivers taxable, removing the student loan interest deduction, and levying a tax on endowments.

The bill passed 227-205, with 192 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting "no." Local congressmen Neal Dunn voted yes, with Al Lawson voting against it, according to the roll call vote.

Local students voiced their concerns to Eyewitness News a week before the bill passed. We reached back out to the Florida State Graduate Assistants United for a comment on the passage.

We reached out to Lawson and Dunn Friday to get reaction to the bill with respect to higher education, but have yet to hear back.

Some students responded to the passage of the bill on social media.



The U.S. Senate released their tax plan last week, and it differs with the House plan - especially when it comes to higher education.

The House tax plan proposed making graduate student tuition waivers taxable, removing the student loan interest deduction, and levying a tax on endowments. The Senate plan keeps the current system of student loan interest and tuition waivers in place, but keeps the 1.4-percent tax on investment at some private schools.

We reached out to the offices of Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson on Wednesday, but have yet to hear back.

If the Senate version passes as it is, the two chambers will have to work out an compromise in a committee. If the agreed version passes in both the Senate and House, the bill is then sent to the president.


By: Charles Roop | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 10, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Chad Sockwell sits in a small cubicle running through code on MATLAB, a proprietary programing language and platform. He’s working on a way to make climate and weather computer modeling faster than it is now.

“You want to get this information as quickly as possible so you can make a well-informed decision,” he said.

Sockwell, a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University studying scientific computing, is getting a tuition waiver for his research. But if the tax plan recently released from the U.S. House of Representatives becomes a reality, he could pay for that money he never sees in his bank account.

“It’s going to hurt me since I am living somewhat paycheck to paycheck,” Sockwell said.

The House tax plan strikes out part 117(d) of the U.S. Code, which prohibits gross income from including qualified tuition reduction. With this removed, tuition waivers could be included as taxable income.

Samantha Berthelette, a philosophy Ph.D. candidate, is studying, in part, what makes us morally responsible for our actions. She is now trying to study what justifies the tax proposal.

“I was shocked when I found out - specifically that they would be taxing the tuition waivers,” she said.

When Berthelette first heard of the plan, she wondered if it was a mistake.

“When I realized that it wasn’t some sort of mistake, I though that ‘Wow, how am I going to be able to afford to stay in school.’”

Berthelette, who also is the Political Action Chair of the Graduate Assistants United, met with fellow graduate students to see what kind of an impact this could have on them. They determined that tax liability with this plan could more than double.

“If I am making $16,000, $4,000 out of that is a massive amount and it just makes the poor even poorer, Berthelette said.”

They sent out a call to action to GAU members across Florida for them to call senators and their representatives in congress.

“This is going to affect so many people all across the country in a huge way,” she said.

The proposed tax plan, among other things, repeals the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides up to $2,000 of tax credit for tuition.

The bill would also eliminate the Student Loan Interest Deduction, which allows taxpayers and borrowers to claim up to $2,500 in loan interest. The American Council on Education claims that 12 million taxpayers benefited from the deduction in 2014.

The concern from some is the the bill - if passed in its current form - would slow down graduate studies. For advocates in the STEM fields - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - this could be worrying as nearly 60 percent of students in these fields rely on tuition waivers.

“Technological advantages is going to be critical for our country - and the world - in the future,” Sockwell said. “I don’t think they should do it unless they are compensating in some way.”

“The people who are making huge impacts on the way we live our lives,” Berthelette said. “You might not see it every day, but this is where the innovation and research is coming from in our country. If you put up so many financial barriers, so many fewer people are going to be able to do that kind of work.”

Sockwell says that if the bill passes in its current form, he may have to make some hard decisions.

“In some ways, I will be hurt but I will be okay in the long run,” he said. “They may not be devastating, but I could be wrong, so it’s uncertain at this point. It’s a gloomy outlook from what I’ve seen so far.”

Eyewitness News has reached out to local congressmen Al Lawson and Neal Dunn, but have yet to hear back. We will update this story if and when we do.



 
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