Graduate students protest GOP tax overhaul

The House of Representatives passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act through the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, Nov. 16. The bill has drawn criticism from Democrats for proposing an expansion of the child tax credit from $1000 to $1600 per child, lowering of corporate taxes from 35 percent to 20 percent, condensing the income tax brackets from 7 to 4 and eliminating state and local tax deductions.

Students and education advocates have also warned about provisions in the bill that would eliminate the student loan interest deduction and tax the tuition waivers that graduate students receive. On Wednesday, Nov. 29, the UC Riverside Graduate Student Association (GSA) and Student Workers Union Local 2865 (UAW) took to the Bell Tower to speak publicly on the implications of the bill, which must now be reconciled with the version passed by the Senate early Saturday morning.

Graduate students receive tuition waivers to compensate for their research. If included in the final bill, this provision would consider the waiver as taxable income. For example, if a student’s tuition waiver accumulates to $20,000 then that amount would be added to the total taxable income the student makes, even though the graduate did not pocket the money.

On Wednesday, STEM graduate students were one of a few groups to state that they have not had the opportunity to get another job because the grants they receive do not allow them to get money from an outside source. This, they shared, has not only made the tuition waiver important but would make it difficult for them to pay the added tax if the provision passes.

Stephanie King, a graduate student in the UCR School of Medicine, shared how the taxing of tuition waivers would make it economically difficult for STEM graduate students. “We are really working here full time and most would tell you that they work more than 40 hours a week, so there’s really no option to get another job to make ends meet and some of us are not allowed to. The impact of this is high,” said King.

King, along with the GSA and UAW, encouraged everyone to call on their congressional officer such as Riverside congressman Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and tell them how this bill would impact them personally.

When asked on the backslash received by the GOP tax, Jorge Flores, internal vice president of College Republicans at UCR, claimed the bill would help middle class families by providing tax breaks, creating more help in child tax credit.  He added, “Before you start opposition about a new legislation from a political party you disagree with, I would recommend looking at the good and the bad and not just the bad. That’s how progress would be made.”

UCR Director of Media Relations John Warren was unavailable for comment regarding the campus’ stance on the tax.

The US Senate passed their own version of the GOP tax on Saturday, Dec. 2. While the Senate version has been widely critiqued by public education advocates for its provisions that could incentivize private schools and put pressure on state and local spending for public schools, it does not include a provision that would tax tuition waivers. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI 1st District), told MSN on Saturday that, with Senate approval, the GOP plans to “move quickly to a conference committee so we can get a final bill to President Trump’s desk.”

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