Valley Voices

Call Congress: Education tax deductions are vital for Valley families

Joseph Jones is president of Fresno Pacific University.
Joseph Jones is president of Fresno Pacific University.

Correction: An earlier version gave an incorrect email. The correct email is fpupres@fresno.edu.

Nearly 75 years ago, a handful of inspired Christian teachers and students put their vision of education, service and faith into action in a building on Van Ness Avenue in Fresno.

Today that vision has expanded to become Fresno Pacific University, which proudly serves 4,000 traditional undergraduates, adults seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees, graduate, online and seminary students on campuses in Fresno, Visalia, Bakersfield and Merced. In addition, we employ more than 1,100 faculty, staff and administrators.

Some 85 percent of our students – many of whom are the first in their families to attend college – and nearly all our employees live in the Valley, and most of our graduates stay in the area, bringing the social and financial benefits of education to themselves, their families and their communities.

How does a private university make quality education accessible to first-generation students in a part of the country with high levels of poverty?

Through the combined talents and commitments of many people: students and graduates, employers of students and their employees, donors, alumni and families – the very people who would be among those harmed by the federal tax overhaul proposals now being debated in Washington, D.C.

Here’s how the legislation as written would harm each of these groups:

Students and graduates

 Eliminating the student-loan interest deduction would make it harder for new graduates with incomes under $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for joint returns to repay the loans so many need to achieve their dream of a university degree.

Though FPU students have lower-than-average debt on graduation, paying more for loans could keep some students from enrolling, and force graduates – especially those in service careers such as education, social work and ministry – to sacrifice more.

Employers of students and their employees

 Under current law, companies can provide up to $5,250 each year to employees in tax-free education assistance. Taxing this amount may cause some firms to rethink offering benefits, contributing to a less-prepared workforce at a time when workers at all levels need to know more, not less.

 Repealing the lifetime-learning credit harms the non-traditional students, usually adults balancing education with family and work responsibilities, who are more and more the norm.

This is especially true in the Valley, where a large number of people have attended community college, but many fewer have completed bachelor or graduate degrees. Indeed, three-quarters of FPU students fit this category.

Donors

 Doubling the standard deduction will lead to fewer Americans itemizing their tax bill, the Tax Policy Center estimates 13 million taxpayers as opposed to today’s 46 million, reducing charitable giving by 4-6.5 percent, or $12.3-19.7 billion a year.

Private universities such as FPU rely on the generosity of supporters, and fewer gifts means fewer resources for FPU and other colleges and universities to offer financial aid, provide facilities and buy equipment to support our students and advance our mission.

 Taxing endowments of private colleges and universities would send money in the wrong direction. As proposed, only the largest endowments would be taxed, but setting this precedent would open the way to ultimately divert funds from even modest endowments to Washington rather than students.

A simplified tax code has been part of the American Dream probably since the first personal income tax was introduced in 1861. A fair and simplified tax code will truly benefit all Americans.

In Washington, the Senate is set to debate the tax proposals this week and if legislation is passed, it will return to the House for reconciliation before going to the president’s desk. Nothing is set in stone. If there is one thing we know about politics, it’s that legislation as proposed will differ from legislation as passed.

The debate process is designed to let all voices be heard. So please use your voice – I strongly encourage you to contact your Senators and congressional representative today and remind them that higher education pays benefits to individuals and society, starting at the local level, right here in our Valley.

Joseph Jones is president of Fresno Pacific University. Connect with him at fpupres@fresno.edu.

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