Science &Technology inCongress
When the White House and Congress struck a balanced budget agreement last month, part of the agreement required that a tax relief of $135 billion be sought. Leaders in both branches soon began the task of apportioning the tax relief, with breaks in education-related costs high on the list. President Clinton released a plan that would provide almost $40 billion in college-related tax breaks. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Rep. Bill Archer (R-TX) proposed his counterpart plan that would provide approximately $31 billion in tax breaks over five years to help people pay for college. However, some provisions in Archer's plan caused raised eyebrows among Democratic and graduate students.
The House proposal would restore the exemption for employer-paid educational assistance through 1997, but for undergraduate education only. In addition, the plan would end the exemption for tuition waivers for graduate students who teach or conduct research. The rationale from the congressional perspective is to put all graduate school students on a level playing field. However, representatives from the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students have expressed fear that rather than placing students on a level playing field, the proposed legislation would just push people out of graduate school altogether.
Archer's proposal would also phase out the exemption that allows an institution to provide tax-free tuition aid for faculty and staff members and their children. Under the plan, employees would have to pay federal income and Social Security taxes on 20 percent of the total value of the tuition in 1998, rising to 100 percent of the tuition's value by 2002. University representatives were quick to point out that the existing exemption is one of the few benefits universities have to lure well-regarded individuals to teach at their institutions.