BEREA, Ky. (WTVQ)- Lawmakers from Kentucky are blaming Senate Democrats for a move they say will make it harder to educate thousands of low-income students at Berea College.
The new tax plan will mean a 1.4% tax on the college’s endowment. It is a big endowment $1,000,000,000 for a small student body of about 1,600 students, but it is what sends those students to Berea tuition-free.
When the House first voted to pass the new tax bill, a provision exempted Berea from that 1.4% tax on private university endowments.
Tuesday night in the senate, though, Senators Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden raised a procedural point that made Republicans drop the exemption.
They wrote Republicans forgot to comply with Senate rules because they were rushing to provide tax breaks for billionaire campaign contributors.
The provision broke the rules because it was classified as “extraneous matter” in legislation.
College President Lyle Roelofs says the school could lose more than $1,000,000 each year and may have to accept fewer students.
“We are very disappointed with the latest developments on the Hill. Berea College uses its entire endowment to educate students who could not otherwise afford to attend college, serving them on a no-tuition basis. We agree that there need to be incentives for schools to make higher education accessible to all students, but it seems so unfortunate that the political strife over tax reform in our country will result in greater difficulty for colleges seeking to serve low-income students,” Roelofs wrote.
On the House floor before the re-vote Wednesday, Representative Andy Barr placed blame on Senate Democrats.
“It is unfortunate that they put partisan politics ahead of ensuring that students, many of whom are low-income and first generation college students, at work-study colleges would continue to be able to receive tuition-free education,” Barr said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell also blamed Democrats.
“I’m frankly mystified that the Democrats stripped this provision from the bill. They didn’t have to, but they did. Democrats’ fanatical opposition to the tax bill reached such hysterical heights that Bernie Sanders proudly led the charge to deliberately harm Berea College, which offers free tuition to less fortunate families. When it came to crunch time, every Democrat in the Senate voted with liberal ideologues rather than stand with working people and their children. As a result of the Democrats’ actions, I’m working with my colleagues in the Kentucky delegation to protect Berea and its students,” he wrote.
ABC 36 reached out to Senator Bernie Sanders for his reaction to the blame from Kentucky Republicans.
“I am glad that Senator McConnell has suddenly developed an interest in making college affordable for working class families. I would hope, therefore, that he would co-sponsor my legislation making all public colleges and universities tuition-free.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell more than anyone in the Senate understands that it is against Senate rules to make these types of policy changes, particularly those targeted at benefitting one institution, in a reconciliation bill. The truth is that while Berea College is an excellent school there are colleges all over this country that use their endowment funds to provide free or significantly reduced tuition for lower-income students. Unfortunately, Mr. McConnell’s tax bill does serious harm to the working-class students who will be attending those schools. I do find it ironic that, while taxing higher education, Senator McConnell’s legislation provided massive tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations,” he wrote.
The Majority Leader and Congressman Barr say they will work together to get Berea an exemption once again in some other form of legislation.