Students advocate for textbook tax cut

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

Students gathered at the Utah State Legislature yesterday to advocate a bill that would eliminate the state sales tax on college textbooks.

The Associated Students of the University of Utah sponsored a press conference to gain student and legislative support of the tax-cut bill they will introduce to the Legislature this spring.

“We wanted to show the Legislature that there is student support for this in all (Utah) schools, not just the University of Utah,” said ASUU Government Relations Director Marko Mijic. “This will be a catalyst for a grassroots movement.”

Student leaders from the U and other Utah universities discussed the bill in the hopes that legislators would listen as they passed through on Interim Day, a day when lawmakers hold monthly meetings. Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, is sponsoring the bill, but ASUU is seeking a Senate sponsor. Hughes chairs the House Education Committee and the influential Conservative Caucus.

“We want to create an awareness outside the student population,” said ASUU Vice President Basim Motiwala.

The bill, designed to mitigate the rising cost of higher education, would eliminate sales tax on any required publication for all Utah colleges and universities, both public and private. If passed, Utah students would save about $4.7 million annually and each student would get about $60 back in his or her pocket each semester.

Christi Olcott, a student advocate for the Utah Student Association, said the saved money would allow students to take another credit hour for the year and graduate faster.

“It represents tangible benefits for every student within higher education in Utah,” said Spencer Pearson, ASUU president.

University Campus Store Assistant Director Shane Girton said the U bookstore is making efforts to reduce costs by offering used and electronic books and buyback programs, but this bill would be the “single most effective contribution to these efforts statewide.”

Girton said the bookstore will start a textbook rental program this summer that allows students to rent books for one-third of the cost and return them at the end of the semester.

At the November Academic Senate Meeting, ASUU leaders asked professors to consider using the same textbooks instead of requiring new editions every year, so students wouldn’t have to pay as much. If a professor used the same book for three years, the bookstore would guarantee to buy the book back.

Seventeen states nationwide have textbook tax exemptions and four others have similar legislation in the works.

Dean of Students Annie Christensen applauded the students for taking the initiative on the issue and promised administrative support.

“The administration and faculty are behind this, not just to support the students, but because we believe in this cause,” Christensen said.

Although the Utah State Board of Regents hasn’t formally discussed proposing the bill yet, Regents student representative Amy Engh said she thinks it has a good chance of passing. She said most Regents with whom she has spoken are supportive.

“It’s a small enough bill to get the state behind it, since it won’t bankrupt the state, but it’s big enough to benefit every student,” Engh said.

ASUU will continue to lobby for the bill by pushing for statewide student support. Leaders hope to have 30,000 students sign a petition for the bill by the time the legislative session starts — a copy of the petition can be found at the bookstore. ASUU will hold another press event during the Spring Legislative session.

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Maegan Burr

Student Body President, Spencer Pearson, introduced the tax-free textbook bill at the State Capitol Building Wendsday.