BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - LSU graduate students are sounding the alarm, saying the tax reform bill passed by the U.S. House before Thanksgiving could lead to a "brain drain" in Louisiana.
The bill does away with a tax break for students receiving a tuition waiver that certain students receive in exchange for working on research and teaching classes for the university. Currently, the waiver is not taxed. Under the House bill, the waiver's value would be counted as part of a student's income.
"It would more than double my income, without seeing a penny of additional income. But I would have to be taxed on that," said Michaela Stone, an LSU doctoral student currently studying the roadblocks blind students face in school.
A single mom, Stone says it's already hard to make ends meet on her small university stipend. She says taxing the waiver would be the same as taxing a coupon and could end up tripling her overall tax burden. "I'm going to have to take out more in loans," Stone said.
Across the LSU system, there are more than 5,000 grad students for the fall 2017 semester. A spokesman for the university says roughly 2,000 of them receive either a stipend or an assistantship, meaning they could be directly impacted by the tax reform bill.
In an op-ed in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, LSU President F. King Alexander railed against the House tax plan. He says it could "have the unintended consequence of driving graduate students out of the United States and toward colleges and universities in Canada, Europe, and around the rest of the world."
At Southern University, roughly 250 of their 1,000 grad students get a waiver, according to a school spokeswoman.
All five Republican congressmen from Louisiana voted in favor of the bill, including Rep. Garret Graves. The sole Democrat, Rep. Cedric Richmond, voted against.
In a statement, a spokesman for Rep. Garret Graves said, "the bill will ultimately benefit grad students and anyone entering the workforce because more competitive tax conditions will lead to more jobs, bigger paychecks, and more money staying in Louisiana instead of going to Washington." He said, "the implications on modest-income grad students appear to largely be unintended in the House bill."
Still, Graves' spokesman says the congressman shares "concerns over the potential impact to grad students" and has spoken with House leadership about them.
Back at LSU, Stone says that while she will be able to make it work if the tax bill passes, she worries about other students, especially those who come from poor backgrounds and may shy away from graduate school. "If we put a bigger price tag on that and say only those who are wealthy enough are allowed to create knowledge, that says terrifying things to me about the future of society in general," she said.
The U.S. Senate is currently drafting its own version of the tax bill. House and Senate leaders say they aim to reach a consensus on a tax plan by the end of the year.