Dayton proposes tax deduction plan for college tuition costs

George Fairbanks

U.S. Senate candidate Mark Dayton has proposed a new way for families to help meet the increasing burden of college tuition.
The Democrat’s plan would offer full federal tax deductibility for college tuition plus room and board. The proposal would be offered to families paying either public or private college tuition.
The Dayton camp’s initial plan estimates the federal government will have to spend roughly $100 billion over the next decade to fund the program as proposed.
Independence Party nominee James Gibson sees Dayton’s proposal differently. “It’s phrased as a tax cut but it will have the effect of increased government spending,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Rod Grams’ spokesman Kurt Zellers said he wants to know who’s going to pay for the proposal.
“Whose taxes is Mark Dayton going to raise to pay for it?” Zellers asked. “Someone’s going to have to pay the bill. He’s essentially bribing taxpayers with their own money.”
Dayton drafted the proposal as a response to what he sees as a direct link between highly educated employees and well-paying jobs.
Dayton points out the last decade’s college tuition at public four-year colleges has increased 53 percent. He said the average tuition for one academic year at a public four-year school is $3,356. The cost for a year at a private school is $15,380.
The Dayton camp also stresses that while college enrollment has increased, chasms still exist along income lines.
They noted that 57 percent of low-income high school graduates enter college immediately. However, 82 percent of high-income graduates enter college immediately after graduating from high school.
These factors are what spurred Dayton to release the somewhat surprising proposal.
“We believe that Minnesotans need someone who will fight for them on education. We haven’t seen that from Sen. Grams,” said Sharon Ruhland, Dayton’s director of communications.
For his part, Zellers calls the proposal little more than another big government program. “He doesn’t back up the facts,” he said.
“The tax deduction will not affect all people equally,” Gibson said.
He expressed skepticism because independent students who already pay low federal taxes or none at all will not benefit from the plan.
Dayton has also proposed what he calls a “loan forgiveness program.” In the proposed program students would work for two to four years in community service.
In exchange for the federal government paying back student loans and interest, a student would teach or work for the Peace Corps, community, church, or non-profit group.
However, Zellers said the notion is misguided.
“Community service is something we should do on our own. Basic American volunteerism shouldn’t be used to bribe students and their parents with their own money,” he said.
In the end, all three of the major campaigns disagreed on how to fund college education at the federal level. The issue, framed by Dayton’s proposal, is likely to be a volatile one among the three men for the rest of the campaign.
“If we’re going to provide aid, this isn’t a very efficient way to do it,” Gibson said.

George Fairbanks covers elections and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3221.