Office of the Provost

Update on U.S. Tax Reform Legislation from Nathan Urban

November 21, 2017

Dear Graduate Students,

You may have read Chancellor Gallagher’s e-mail sent Friday about the tax reform proposals currently being discussed by Congress (http://chancellor.pitt.edu/spotlight/pitt-community-update-us-tax-reform-legislation). The House bill—which was passed last week—and a Senate bill—which will likely be voted on in the week after Thanksgiving—both contain provisions damaging to universities. I write to tell you more about how the House bill would affect graduate students and update you on how the University is working to strongly oppose these harmful changes.

While several provisions of the proposed bills would affect graduate students, the most immediate concern is a provision in the House bill that would impose a new tax on graduate tuition scholarships or tuition waivers. This provision would increase annual federal taxes on students receiving these waivers (which includes most PhD students and many other graduate students) from less than $1,000 to more than $5,000.

Various online calculators can be used to determine the potential impact on individual students, but the biggest factor that would be changed is that the income considered taxable would increase by the amount of a student’s tuition waiver or scholarship. (You can find the University’s graduate tuition rates here: http://ir.pitt.edu/graduate-tuition.) In most cases, this new “income” would be taxed at a rate of 12%. For example, a student receiving a tuition waiver of $30,000 would see $3,600 in new tax. Please see a Web page prepared by the Council on Graduate Schools: http://cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/CGS_Tax_Reform_Scenarios(1).pdf.

The University is working hard to educate members of Congress and the public about the impact of these proposals. The Chancellor and other University leaders have been engaging members of Congress and their staffs on this issue. It is important that we make our voices heard. The Chancellor’s e-mail offers a link to the “With Pitt” site created to both inform the University community and coordinate efforts to contact policy makers.  

I have written a letter about the consequences of the proposed tax reform legislation that was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the editorial board of the paper has supported our point of view. I have been talking to students about the issue, and last week Mike Ringler, the University’s Senior Director for Federal Relations, joined one meeting with students. I believe that sharing our perspectives and the stories of students like you with members of Congress and the general public are effective ways to convey the seriousness of this issue.

Many students have asked about what concrete steps they can take. The critical time for outreach will be the week after Thanksgiving when the Senate is debating and voting on their bill. I would suggest the following:

1. Inform yourself about the changes and their potential impact. Many sites and articles contain information. Two are listed here:

http://www.acenet.edu/Pages/Higher-Education-and-Tax-Reform.aspx

http://nagps.org/rework-the-reform/

2. Visit and revisit the “With Pitt” portal site- https://www.with.pitt.edu/. The site will be updated to include new information and opportunities to engage as they emerge. Consider contacting your elected officials via this portal or otherwise.

3. Follow @PittGradStudies on Twitter. We will be using it to distribute information about the progress of this effort and the response to it. Or, if you prefer, we have also created a non-moderated e-mail list. Students who sign up will be able to e-mail each other via this list. You can sign up here: https://list.pitt.edu/mailman/listinfo/oppose_grad_student_tax.

4. Attend the Advocacy for Graduate Students Workshop on November 30, 2017 from 4 p.m. - 5 p.m. in Dining Room B in the William Pitt Union. This workshop will focus on ways that graduate students can be involved in both state and federal levels. I will discuss the status of the tax reform bills.

5. Write a letter to the editor. You could send the letter either to a Pittsburgh area newspaper or a newspaper in your home town. The following newspapers will likely be read by staffers of the most important senators - the ones who will likely be on the reconciliation committee:

UT - Deseret News/The Salt Lake Tribune, IA - Des Moines Register, ID - Idaho Statesman, KS - Kansas City Star, WY - Wyoming Tribune Eagle, TX - Houston Chronicle, SD - Argus Leader, NC - Raleigh News and Observer/Charlotte Observer, GA - Atlanta Journal Constitution,  OH - Columbus Dispatch,  PA - Philadelphia Inquirer,  NV - Las Vegas Review-Journal, SC - The State, LA - New Orleans Times-Picayune

https://twitter.com/ChrisMarsicano/status/931953249091022848

Feel free to contact me if you have thoughts or concerns about this issue or others. My next monthly office hour is on Friday, December 1, 2017 from 8 a.m. - 9 a.m. in 801 Cathedral of Learning.

Working together, we can be most effective in advocating for your interests and the University’s.

Nathan Urban

Vice Provost for Graduate Studies