US tax bill: Democrats attack exemption for college linked to Betsy DeVos (Guardian U.S.)

US tax bill: Democrats attack exemption for college linked to Betsy DeVos

Democrats are attacking a proposed amendment to the Republican tax plan that would carve out an exception to a small Christian college in southern Michigan with ties to education secretary Betsy DeVos.

In a tense exchange with Democrats on the Senate floor, Pennsylvania Republican senator Pat Toomey defended the provision, which would exempt Hillsdale College from an excise tax on universities and colleges with endowments larger than $250,000 per student.

“I do understand that my colleagues on the far left do not have fond opinion of Hillsdale – but I do,” Toomey said. “I actually think it’s a wonderful institution.” He added that the university saves taxpayers a “tremendous amount of money” by refusing federal aid.

“We don’t have a fond opinion of discrimination and of giving a tax provision for just one college that happens to be funded by one of the wealthiest families in America because they happen to be a Republican donor,” senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, shot back.

Hillsdale College is a conservative liberal arts college based in central Michigan that enrolls about 1,400 and focuses its curriculum around “western philosophical and theological inheritance”.

The university boasts high-profile conservative alumni, including DeVos and her brother, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater as well as former congressman Chris Chocola, a Republican of Indiana. Chocola succeed Toomey as president of the Club for Growth, a conservative organization focused on cutting taxes.

In a sustained back-and-forth, Toomey argued that any university could benefit from the amendment if it refused federal aid.

“A college that chooses to not put that imposition on federal taxpayers ought to be able to be exempt from this tax,” Toomey told the Democrats. “It would be available to any college that makes that choice.”

“I can’t find anybody else in America who benefits from this particular provision. That doesn’t strike me as right,” Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, retorted. “There are so many deserving schools in Oregon and Pennsylvania and elsewhere who don’t get this special treatment.”

The Democrats said that only Hillsdale appeared to be the only college that had an endowment large enough that refused federal student aid. Democrats have accused the school of refusing government aid to avoid complying with federal regulations preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Michigan Democrat senator Claire McCaskill scoffed: “This is a very limited provision written for a very special person.”

Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, called the Hillsdale exemption a “metaphor” for the Republican tax plan.

“A single wealthy college, the pet project of a billionaire campaign contributor to the Republican party exempted by a [senator] who fought to get rid of earmarks,” Schumer said. “This unfortunately is the metaphor for this bill and how high the stench is rising in this chamber as we debate the bill tonight.”

Republicans have proposed a 1.4% tax on endowments of $250,000 or more per student as part of their sweeping, $1.4tn tax plan. Hillsdale has an endowment of $548 million, which breaks down to roughly more than $350,000 per student. The student newspaper recently calculated that the tax would cost the school $700,000.

Toomey’s provision is expected to be added to the tax plan as part of last-minute changes to the legislation ahead of a vote late Friday evening.


via Guardian U.S.

December 1, 2017 at 08:15PM