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Louisiana college leaders ask for changes in Republican tax reform bills

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation. 

Louisiana higher education leaders are collectively asking the state’s congressional delegation to take out several provisions in the GOP tax reform legislation that they argue would make college more expensive for students and place additional burdens on stressed school budgets.

In a letter sent to lawmakers Wednesday, the state commissioner of higher education and the presidents of the state’s four university systems warned against eight specific provisions in the House and Senate tax bills.

“We ask that you avoid making changes to the tax code that make obtaining a postsecondary education more expensive for Louisiana students and further threaten the financial stability of our institutions at a time when Louisiana’s public postsecondary system is among the lowest funded in the nation,” reads the letter.

The letter is not the first instance of university leaders sounding the alarm about the tax legislation. LSU President F. King Alexander recently said the legislation’s impacts on students and schools would be “wide-ranging” and “damaging.” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva called it “disastrous” for college athletics.

“We’ve raised the awareness and we’re not alone,” Commissioner of Higher Education Joe Rallo says, noting many other universities and higher education groups throughout the country have also voiced concern. “There’s been a huge groundswell of opinion.”

Louisiana’s delegation has thus far been largely supportive of the Republican tax plans, aside from lone Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond. Rallo says the delegation has kept in touch with university leaders and has heard their concerns.

In a statement, Sen. Bill Cassidy says he wants tax reform to create jobs, encourage higher wages and cut people’s taxes, “so that things like going to college are easier for more Americans.”

A final version of the bill is being negotiated by House and Senate members, so it’s premature to assume which provisions will be included.”

A spokesman for Garret Graves says the congressman “shares the concern for Louisiana’s students and continues to advocate on their behalf,” adding that both bills would increase job opportunities for students after college.

We will continue to work to further improve the legislation,” he says. 

GOP leaders in Congress are currently working to reconcile the House and Senate bills, both of which feature large tax cuts for corporations, along with a significant rewrite of deductions and individual rates.

In their letter, Louisiana’s higher education leaders say the legislation would raise taxes on many low- to middle-income people who currently benefit from tax-free tuition waivers or reimbursements. It would also take away key assistance for nontraditional and graduate students and remove incentives for businesses to help employees pay for college, among other things.

The concern of higher education leaders throughout the U.S. has become well known in recent months, and the provision that taxes graduate students has particularly raised red flags. The letter also notes that both the House and Senate bills repeal a deduction taken by college athletic fans who donate to schools in exchange for season tickets, a move that LSU athletics leaders say threatens their ability to remain self sufficient.

—Sam Karlin

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