House Dems pitch tax credit for college grads

Forty-seven state Democratic representatives are proposing to offer every student who graduates from college – and remains in the state – a tax credit in the five years after earning their diploma.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz estimates 50,000 to 60,000 people would be eligible for the credit. The cost would depend on how many people participate, but assuming 10 percent of those eligible take advantage of the credit, the legislators estimate the cost would be $6 million a year.

That translates into an average credit for recent grads of $1,000 to $1,200, though the amount of the credit would be based on income.

The goal of this legislation, House Democrats said during at press conference at the state Capitol complex Friday, is to “keep our best and brightest here.”

“Many of our students are choosing other places to go,” said Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. “What can we do to make Connecticut more affordable and more lucrative for them to stay here after they have gotten their college degrees.”

While thousands of students are moving out of state, or not returning after they finish college out-of-state, data on student migration patterns analyzed by the Minnesota Population Center shows that Connecticut is one of 24 states to experience a net influx of recent college grads between 2000 and 2015.

Other proposals in recent years to create more generous tax credits for recent graduates, filed almost entirely by Republican legislators, have stalled. Those proposals ranged from providing the credit only to students who have more than $20,000 in student debt or recent graduates who live in urban areas. The costs for those proposals, which could provide as much as $1,500 per recipient, were nearly $72 million a year.

A question during the news conference about why the state shouldn’t just make college more affordable instead generated uncomfortable laughter.

“It’s more difficult. Obviously we have our institutes of higher learning that we try and control the costs on, and that’s been very difficult,” said Aresimowicz. We also have a lot of non-state run education facilities in the state of Connecticut. We can’t control what Wesleyan, Yale, right-down-the-line charges. So this is a benefit all can use.”

State funding for public colleges and universities has been on a roller coaster in recent years, and state support has not kept pace with growing operating costs at the University of Connecticut, the regional Connecticut State Universities and Connecticut community colleges.

In fiscal 2008, UConn’s main block grant from the state was $235 million. In 2013, UConn received $196 million. And then last fiscal year, the school received $240 million.

The state’s community colleges, regional state universities and online college received $329 million in 2008. By 2013, that Board of Regents system received $277 million. And then last fiscal year, the system received $351 million.

But mandatory salary increases and other items have pushed costs up rapidly. Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, the state’s largest public college system, has increased tuition by 50 percent since 2008 and cut many services. That has translated into $3,353 more in tuition and fees for the regional universities and $1,345 more for the community colleges.

UConn also has increased tuition and fees by 60 percent, or $5,214, since 2008 and has enrolled more out-of-state students, who pay much higher tuition.

State support for students attending private colleges also has declined. State-funded financial aid for those students has been cut in half since 2011.

House Democrats could offer no promises that they wouldn’t turn again to higher education to help close the $1.7 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Gov. Malloy has proposed significant cuts to the public colleges and financial aid for private institutions.

“It really is the starting point,” said the house speaker, adding that college affordability is a top priority of his. “I haven’t drawn any lines in the sand… It is a process. We are working on it. I don’t know where we will end up.”

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