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student tried to calculate Tuesday morning how much income she would lose if a proposed Republican tax plan overhaul passed in Congress.
Gach’s anxiety stemmed from embattled legislation GOP officials are touting as simplifying the tax code. The House passed its version of the plan earlier this month.
Democrats, supported by an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, argue the Senate bill would negatively impact many low and middle income Americans while bolstering the wealthy.
One group stunned by the loss of tax deductions under the proposed plan: graduate students.
“It would be the equivalent of two months of income that I would have to pay in taxes if this goes through,” Gach said. “And keep in mind, that’s taxing me on money that I literally never see.”
Qualified graduate students such as Gach, who serve as teaching and research assistants, currently get college tuition waived for their contributions as a tax exempt benefit. The House bill would tax this tuition waiver, which is money that never actually hits the students’ bank accounts.”Eliminating this benefit will make it dramatically more costly for students to pursue a graduate degree and harm the research enterprise, as well as the STEM pipeline,” wrote CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano in an online post. program studying technology, media and society in the ATLAS Institute.
Her research assistantship at CU brings in about $18,000 a year, after taxes. Gach’s husband’s income as a web designer puts them in a taxable bracket when combined with hers.
If not for Gach’s tuition waiver, she would have needed to shell out about $35,000 for her first year as an out of state CU graduate student. Under the proposed plan, Gach would be taxed for her waived tuition and income totaling about $53,000, instead of the $18,000 she earns.
In her studies and research, Gach zeroes in on human factors in computing systems, such as how to digitally design with compassion and emotions in mind. She hopes to use her expertise to better the tech industry and teach in her field.
“I’m trying to be optimistic,” said Gach, who compared being a graduate student to being “the Uber drivers of academia.”
“We’re an inexpensive labor force, but we have to work so many hours a week to establish ourselves and end up making less than minimum wage.”
On top of Boulder housing prices, food and other everyday expenses, she said 60 percent of her income goes toward putting her baby in day care for three days a week.
“We still come out in the black, but if my husband were also a grad student, it would not be possible,” Gach said. “I’m so lucky I’m part of a two income household. For my colleagues, it’s the difference between being able to do this work or not.”
Juan Garca Oyervides, president of the CU United Government of Graduate Students, said the graduate student community enriches Boulder County, the state and the nation through their research, scientific contributions, teaching, art and general passion for learning.
UGGS is organizing a gathering for students to collectively call their legislators to voice their concerns, and Garca Oyervides is making sure to send out updates to impacted students about where the tax plan stands.
“This is one of those limited occasions where I can’t imagine somebody being in favor of this population getting a tax increase,” he said. “It blows my mind.”
UGGS and campus administration are scheduled to meet a few times this week to develop an action plan. As concerned emails from students pour into his inbox, Garca Oyervides wants to be able to reply with what university leadership is doing to help.
CU President Bruce Benson and chancellors from all four campuses signed a letter directed to Colorado House of Representative members, urging them to consider the ways students, the university and the state, overall, would be impacted by the House’s bill.
“We recognize that these are challenging economic times that require lawmakers to balance diverse priorities and make difficult decisions about the federal budget and tax policy,” the letter read.
“The three of those together would really hurt,” McConnellogue said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the GOP tax bill was headed to the full Senate.
Gach planned to continue calling her legislative representatives.
“I love it at CU,” she said. “I’m becoming an expert in a really relevant field, and I want to be able to continue doing this, and I want to be able to support my family while I’m working 50 hours a week.”