Grad students gather at Hartzler's office

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COLUMBIA – University of Missouri graduate teaching and research assistants gathered on Monday to share their opinions on a tax plan backed by Republicans in the U.S. House.  

The plan would repeal a tax provision that allows colleges and universities to provide tax-free tuition waivers to graduate students who are serving as teaching or research assistants.

MU Graduate Assistants could see their federal taxes increase up to 350 percent if the tax plan passes. The assistants receiving tuition waivers would have to count their benefits as income. 

A group called Coalition of Graduate Workers lined up outside of Representative Vicky Hartzler’s district office on Monday with more than 50 letters from MU graduate students and faculty.  

“The letters identify the specific provisions within the bill and talk a little bit about what they would do to graduate students and ask Representative Hartzler to consider voting against the bill or at least proposing an amendment on the floor that would take those provisions out of the bill, which is an option,” said Outreach Officer for Coalition of Graduate Workers Joseph Moore.  

More than 2,000 graduate students at the University of Missouri would be affected by the plan.

“For me personally, it would increase my taxes annually by $2,000, which is about four months of rent for me,” Moore said. “It would have all sorts of devastating consequences for higher education in Missouri and across the country.”  

Hartzler’s press secretary, Steven Walsh, was at the district office to hear the concerns of the graduate students.

“We were here to listen, we heard what they had to say and we will share those concerns with the congresswoman. She’s going to know what’s going on in the minds of the constituents and she will know it really quickly,” Walsh said. 

Walsh shared the graduate students said if the tax plan was passed they would have to pay a tax on the waiver tuition.

“If they pay tax on that that would be something that they would have a very difficult time coming to grips with,” Walsh said.  

Moore said the plan would impact numerous people throughout the country.

“This provision would prevent thousands of low-income and middle class students from pursuing higher education and it would have pretty devastating impacts on the U.S. economy. It would hurt research in STEM fields and it would make the U.S. less competitive compared to other countries globally,” he said.  

Coalition of Graduate Workers is a labor union that represents 2,700 graduate students at the University of Missouri.

Moore said the group’s goal is “to either get these provisions out of the GOP tax bill or to have this bill die entirely.” He also said if the tax plan is approved, he thinks MU would “almost certainly” see a drop in graduate assistants and teachers.  

Hartzler is currently in Washington D.C. reviewing the tax plan. The House may potentially see a vote by the end of the week.

In an email following the interview, Walsh said, "I have spoken with Congresswoman Hartzler regarding the tax reform proposal concerns of the grad students who met with us today. She has raised this concern of her constituents with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman  Kevin Brady, who introduced the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act." 

President of the American Council on Education Ted Mitchell wrote in a letter that the legislation “would discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private, two-year and four-year colleges and universities.”

Mitchell also said “the bill’s provisions would increase the cost to students attending college by more than $65 billion between 2018 and 2027.”