A group of Penn State graduate students and members of the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors gathered at the Allen Street Gates on Wednesday to rally in opposition to the GOP tax bill.
The rally comes less than one week after Penn State President Eric Barron released a statement that said about 4,400 graduate assistants and graduate fellows would experience a tax increase of about $2,000 per year under the House Republican plan. The bill repeals a provision of the tax code that doesn’t tax scholarship, fellowship and grant funds for grad students.
Michelle Rodino-Colocino, president of the Penn State AAUP chapter, organized the event, which drew more than 60 people, in less than 24 hours. Standing in the shadow of the holiday tree in downtown State College, Rodino-Colocino spoke to the crowd and welcomed people to voice their opinion on the GOP tax plan.
A recurring theme among the impromptu speeches and chants was the group’s displeasure with U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, who voted in favor of the House bill.
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One of the first few people to speak to the crowd was Matt Dering, a computer science graduate student. Following his remarks, he said he has come to expect Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, one of two senators representing Centre County, to support this type of bill, but he hoped Thompson would back down and vote no.
“It’s extremely frustrating to me that two of the three people who are supposed to represent me have just completely dropped the ball,” Dering said. “Their support for the bill has told me that they don’t care about my job and they don’t care about the labor that we put into this.”
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is the lone Centre County representative in Congress to speak out against the bill, calling it a “thief in the night.”
Thompson’s communications director, Renee Gamela, told the CDT last week that the bill does repeal the graduate student tax waiver, but the congressman sees the bill as a way to “make a more simple and fair tax structure.”
The bill is in the Senate and is expected to be voted on as early as Thursday, but the Senate version does not repeal graduate tax waiver. However, if the bill is passed it will be discussed in a House and Senate conference where the graduate student tax waiver could be added back to the legislation before it is sent to President Donald Trump. That prospect is one of the reasons why Rodino-Colocino said that graduate students must unite and keep fighting.
“Taxing tuition waivers would completely decimate graduate study and it would have ripple effects on higher education,” Rodino-Colocino said. “It would also stand to make attending college for undergraduates out of reach as well because many undergraduates get tuition waivers of various form, various tuition discounts and to include that as income would really price out an inordinate number of students.”