Johns Hopkins leaders push for changes to tax legislation moving through Congress

Proposed measures would negatively affect college affordability, increase tax burden for students and Johns Hopkins employees, Daniels and Rothman say

As tax legislation takes shape in Congress, Johns Hopkins leaders are troubled by how changes to the tax code might affect the university, its students, and its employees.

Though the version of the tax bill passed by the House in mid-November differs significantly from the version under consideration in the Senate, university and health system leaders have voiced concern that the legislation would negatively affect college affordability and increase the tax burden for students and employees.

"Johns Hopkins actively opposes those provisions that would harm our students, faculty, staff, and graduates. We likewise oppose those provisions that could impede our ability as a university to perform our mission of teaching, research, and patient care."
Ronald J. Daniels
President, Johns Hopkins University

In recent weeks, Johns Hopkins representatives have communicated these concerns on Capitol Hill and worked closely with peer institutions and higher education associations on ongoing advocacy efforts.

"Johns Hopkins actively opposes those provisions that would harm our students, faculty, staff, and graduates," JHU President Ronald J. Daniels said. "We likewise oppose those provisions that could impede our ability as a university to perform our mission of teaching, research, and patient care."

In a letter sent to members of Congress today, Daniels and Johns Hopkins Medicine CEO Paul Rothman expressed strong opposition to several proposed measures, including:

  • Eliminating the tax exemption on tuition waivers for graduate students whose waiver is linked to their performing as teaching assistants or research assistants
  • Eliminating the student loan interest deduction
  • Eliminating tax exemptions for tuition assistance for employees and their dependents
  • Creating a new excise tax on endowments at private colleges and universities, reducing the university's ability to support students and faculty
  • Eliminating the individual mandate for health insurance
  • Eliminating tax-exempt private activity bonds for construction and other projects
  • Eliminating the New Market Tax Credit and the historic preservation tax credit, which encourage development in economically distressed communities across the country, including Baltimore

Overall, the changes reflected in the House bill would increase the cost to students of attending college by more than $65 billion over the next decade, according to an estimate by the American Council on Education.

Graduate students could be particularly hard hit, with increases in the cost of attendance or greater tax liability putting graduate studies beyond the reach of many of them. Johns Hopkins currently enrolls more than 18,000 full- and part-time graduate students.

University leaders have been consulting with representatives from each of JHU's nine academic divisions and with graduate students about the potential impact of the proposed changes, in particular the elimination of the tuition waiver exemption.

"We are working daily with many other universities and our allies in Congress to stand in strenuous opposition to these tax changes," JHU Provost Sunil Kumar and others wrote in a message to graduate students on Nov. 17, "and we hope you know that your voice is even more important to the debate in Washington."

Reforming the tax code and enacting a $1.5 trillion tax cut sits atop the legislative agenda for Republicans in Congress, who have indicated they hope to have a bill passed before the end of the year. But obstacles remain. The legislation's prospects in the Senate are uncertain, and the differences between the House bill and the Senate bill, should one pass, would need to be reconciled.

Members of the Hopkins community are encouraged to visit the website of the American Council on Education for more information about tax reform legislation and its impact, to stay informed, and to communicate their interests and concerns directly with their representatives in Congress.

Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to properly note the proposed elimination of the tax exemption on tuition waivers for graduate students whose waiver is linked to their performing as research assistants. The Hub regrets the error.

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