Tuition tax credit bill moves to Senate floor

By By Trent Lowe, Staff Writer

By Trent Lowe, Staff Writer

Lawmakers think tuition is too high.

House Bill 35, which proposes a 5 percent tax credit to students pursuing higher education, passed unanimously in the Utah Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

The bill would allow students to file for a non-refundable tax credit that could be used toward tuition and mandatory student fees, up to 5 percent of students’ annual earnings before taxes.

“When we have students who stay in the state and drive the economy, they create a positive fiscal impact,” said Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, who is sponsoring the bill.

With tuition rising annually8212;increasing nearly 22 percent in the past 10 years8212;many state lawmakers see the bill as necessary to not force students to take on extra employment and prolong their education process.

“We’re pricing out students,” said Sen. Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley City, who sits on the committee. “Really, the problem is that tuition has increased way too quickly, and what we really need to do is cap tuition. This is just putting patchwork on a problem that we’ve created.”

The bill passed the committee with all six members present voting in the affirmative, but the bill didn’t go without opposition.

Lisa Kirchenheiter, a member of the Park City Board of Education, opposed the bill, fearing it will only take money from public secondary education. The Utah School Boards Association, which oversees the various boards of education throughout the state, supported Kirchenheiter’s stance.

“The money will come out of the education fund, and we feel that, with the budget cutbacks and our situation, it will damage public education,” said Steve Peterson, deputy executive director of USBA. “We support the concept of it, but not the money part of it. We oppose it and we’ll do what we need to do.”

The bill, unlike other legislation presented in past years proposing tuition tax credits, allows students to receive the tax credit even after graduation, as long as they stay in Utah.

“As long as you’re in Utah paying taxes, you can take it out,” Dougall said. “It’s incentive for students to stay in Utah. It’s so that the investment we put into these students will help drive the economy in the future.”

The bill won support not only from the committee, but also from the Utah State Board of Regents, whose members called the bill a “good investment,” and from the United Way, an organization that promotes the public good, which includes education.

“In rough economic times, higher education tends to be the balancing wheel, because families realize the importance of staying in school,” said Cecilia Foxley, a United Way representative and former commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education. “For those who already pay to fund their education, it’s a smart investment.”

The bill will now be introduced to the Senate floor for a final vote. The Utah House of Representatives passed the bill Feb. 13 with a vote of 62 to three, with 10 abstentions.

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