Thursday, June 13, 2013

GOP lawmakers propose tax breaks for college parents

By Meredith Colias

Illinois lawmakers from both political parties have taken notice as in-state tuition rates at four-year state universities have doubled in the past decade.

Concerned that these rising costs are causing more college students to leave for out-of-state schools, several House Republicans want to offer their parents tax incentives to help them stay.

In a two-part proposal filed this week, House Bill 3640, sponsored by House Republican Leader Rep. Tom Cross, would offer a yearly $1,000 tax credit to families earning up to $150,000 for the student’s in-state college costs. House Bill 3641, sponsored by Rep. Adam Brown, a Republican from Decatur, would offer a tax exemption for up to $10,000 per year for money that parents and guardians add to their child’s 529 college savings fund.

To qualify for the tax credit, a student would have to be enrolled at least part time at an in-state college or university and have tuition and fees totaling more than $1,000. Need-based students receiving grants from the Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) would not be eligible for the tax break.

As climbing tuition rates in the state see no signs of easing, universities in neighboring states such as Iowa and Missouri are actively recruiting students from Illinois.

Jacksonville Republican Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer said he is troubled the “brain drain” will be harmful in the long-term because students may not return to Illinois to begin their careers when they graduate. “We want to make sure in this state that we keep our best and brightest here,” he said during a news conference today.

Higher education has seen steep cuts in state funding during the past decade, and colleges and universities have been forced to freeze hiring, delay maintenance and raise tuition to cope. In his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins in July, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed cuts to education funding of nearly 5 percent across the board, but that was averted in the legislature’s higher education budget when extra money rolled in from unexpected tax revenues.

Prioritizing higher education funding will continue to be difficult for lawmakers as the state delays payments as part of its backlog of unpaid bills, and colleges and universities face a potential cost-shift of assuming employee pensions through the State Universities Retirement System.  The MAP program also remains underfunded.

For a more comprehensive look at the roots of Illinois’ higher education woes, see this November 2011 blog post from our bureau chief, Jamey Dunn.

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