Sunday, December 10, 2017

GOP War on Education for All Taxes Understanding

With each new day, it seems our nation becomes more and more adverse to learning, knowledge and education.

Many years ago, when Jack Wolf was president of Pottstown Borough Council, he dropped some knowledge on me. "If you want to see what a government's priorities are, just look at their budget."

A variation on "follow the money," I look back with chagrin that someone actually had to tell me something I should have figured out for myself.

If we apply that to the nation, or, more specifically the various aspects of the GOP tax bill, it clearly says education for all is not a high priority.

Polls show that Conservatives increasingly see college as "bad for the country," and yes, I am not making that up.

Consider how the First Son, Donald Trump Jr., views college: “We’ll take $200,000 of your money; in exchange, we’ll train your children to hate our country.”

Attacking the "politically-correct" speech on campus that Conservatives love to lambast, Trump Jr. said “Hate speech is anything that says America is a good country. That our founders were great people. That we need borders. Hate speech is anything faithful to the moral teachings of the Bible.”

He is right, our founders were great people, in part, because they championed public education. They were born of a movement that venerated the free exchange of ideas and the pursuit of the truth, no matter where it led, and detested the idea that education should be left to clerics.

Wrote John Adams: "The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Maybe, as with so many things involving our president, it's all about him.

As the Washington Post reported in a Nov. 25 look at how conservatives view college education, "Hillary Clinton trounced Trump in the nation’s most educated counties, but Trump won white voters without a college degree by 37 points."

One might argue that rather than elevate the educated, the president wants more people who will vote for him, and this tax bill fits that bill.

I suppose the fact that he settled lawsuits claiming Trump University is a scam may have something to do with his thoughts on what is taught in college. Few, apparently, have as many courses as Trump University in why Donald Trump is great.

But he is not alone in his antipathy toward higher learning.

Research by the Pew Center shows "Core conservatives are overwhelmingly anti-college, by 80 to 16 percent — a worse rating than they gave to labor unions or Islam. The other slice of Trump’s base, “Country First Conservatives,” are anti-college by 60 to 32 percent," wrote Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.

So the Republicans in congress are doing something about this hatred of college knowledge in their unpopular but seemingly inevitable tax-cut-for-millionaires plan. They're making it harder to survive, because we need more people who believe the world is flat and who can't find North Korea on a map.

As Westneat wrote, "the Republican plan passed by the House would raise taxes on graduate students, of all people, by taxing what are called 'tuition waivers.' This is akin to taxing college scholarships, as universities often waive all or part of the tuition for grad students who serve as research or teaching assistants while getting their master’s degrees or Ph.Ds."

The House tax plan also removes the deduction for interest on college loans, so look for more debt in your college student's future. 

You can thank House Members Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist.; Pat Meehan, R-7th Dist. and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8th Dist. who all voted for the bill that includes those provisions.

Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist.
"The average student loan debt of a 2016 college graduate was $37,000. At $1.4 trillion, U.S. student loan debt is now larger than credit card debt," according to The Washington Post. 

The fact that Betsy DeVos picked the CEO of a for-profit student debt serving company to run the nation's student loan program and, has financial connections to such companies, is surely pure coincidence.

Pat Meehan, R-7th Dist.
The Senate version preserves the student loan and tuition waiver tax benefits to students. The Senate plan also excludes a House proposal to roll three higher-education tax credits into one benefit, according to The Washington Post.

On top of all this, tuitions are increasing, but part of that is due to the fact that since the financial crisis in 2008, only three states have increased funding to their public colleges.

Most, Pennsylvania included, have cut funding, according to a Washington Post analysis.

And "both the House and Senate also would raise taxes on private university endowments, which haven’t been taxed because the universities are nonprofits," Westneat wrote.

Both the House and Senate GOP tax bills have included a 1.4 percent tax on private college endowments worth more than $250,000 per student. Schools with fewer than 500 students would be exempt, The Morning Call reported

Except of course, for the ones they like.

Our own Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, who will be on the conference committee that reconciles the House and Senate bills and once headed the Conservative Club for Growth, made headlines when he introduced a provision in the Senate bill that would seemingly benefit one single private school.

"An addition from Sen. Pat Toomey to exempt certain colleges from a new levy on private schools with particularly lucrative endowments. The problem, according to Democrats who grilled the Pennsylvania Republican over his proposal, is that it would benefit only one school: Hillsdale College, a small Michigan institution described by the New York Times as playing 'an active role in conservative thought and policy,'” The Allentown Morning Call reported.

One of Hillsdale's benefactors is .... wait for it .... Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. What a shock!

So while Donald Trump Jr. thinks colleges teach students to "hate their country," other Republicans are OK with, and would provide tax breaks to, those that teach students to think the right way -- their way.

And how about education on the primary and secondary level? Well, the Republican war on education undermines that too, in several ways.

The first is that the House bill would remove the tax write-off for teachers who pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, although the Senate bill actually increases the deduction from $250 to $500.

As The Reading Eagle reported in August, many teachers, particularly in Pottstown, spend their own money to buy classroom supplies for their students that the district budget cannot afford to provide. The Eagle's story identified Lincoln Elementary School teacher Jennifer Groff, who said she spends about $1,200 a year on supplies to make sure her students have what they need to succeed.
When you consider that the average Pottstown teacher salary is the lowest in Montgomery County, and that Pottstown is underfunded by $13 million a year using Pennsylvania's minimally applied Fair Funding formula, it's obvious this cost, and the tax offset, are significant.

With Pottstown Borough facing an 18 percent property tax hike, driven in part by the loss of Pottstown Hospital from the tax rolls, school district officials are looking fearfully at the next round of budget talks for the 2018-2019 school year. (And many are privately bemoaning the election loss of board member Thomas Hylton, whose willingness to dive deep into the district's finances was increasingly respected).

Last month, the school board voted to self-limit any tax hike to 3.5 percent. It has not raised taxes for the last three years.

Keeping within that limit will be difficult, but pressure to not raise taxes will increase if a provision in the Senate bill, which no longer allows us to deduct state and local taxes on our tax return, survives to the final version.

"Eliminating the state and local tax deduction was met with strong opposition from House lawmakers in high-tax states and cities. So a concession was made in the House Republicans bill to restore an itemized deduction for property taxes up to $10,000," but it is still in the Senate bill, according to CNN.

Whether it survives may well determine how high Pottstown and other local districts can raise local taxes to make up for shortfalls due to state under-funding, lost property assessments and yes, higher spending -- further undermining an already underfunded school district where all students now qualify for free and reduced lunch.

And, because no tale of GOP mendacity would be complete without him, "hours before the bill was
passed, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced an amendment that would allow parents to use a special tax-free college savings account to pay tuition for private K-12 schools, a provision that would largely benefit wealthier families who can already afford private schools," according to The Washington Post.

As if this wasn't insulting enough, "separately, the (Senate) bill would bar school districts from using cost-effective, tax-free 'advance refund bonds' to refinance school bond debt, a prohibition that could prove costly for districts looking to refinance to save money, according to John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International.

"Advance refund bonds 'are a cost-effective way for districts to refinance high-interest debt at lower-interest rates, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars in lower debt payments,” Musso wrote in a blog post on the website of the American Association of School Administrators," the Post reported.

Let's sum up. The Republican effort on education has, in one house of the other, endorsed: 
  • Less money for public schools
  • Less money for teachers buying supplies
  • Less ways for public schools to refinance their debt and save money
  • More money for people who want to send their kids to private school
  • Removing the deduction for student debt
  • Removing deductions for college endowments that fund scholarships
  • Keeping those deductions for schools that teach Conservative principles
  • Taxing tuition wavers for graduate students producing advanced degrees
And why is all this necessary?

To cut taxes on corporations and billionaires so wealth "trickles down" to the rest of us -- an economic theory that remains just that, a theory, given that it has never worked once.

We have had seven straight years of job growth. As The New York Times reported Friday, "Companies are posting jobs faster than they can find workers to fill them. Incomes are rising. The stock market sets records seemingly every month.

"The latest evidence of the revival came Friday, when the Labor Department reported that American employers added 228,000 jobs in November. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent, the lowest since 2000. Job growth has slowed since its peak in 2014 but remains remarkably steady: For the first time on record, employers have added jobs every month for more than seven years — 86 months, to be precise."

Wall Street hits an all-time high, it seems, every few weeks. 

How much better do you expect the economy to get? Is all this really needed with things going this well?

In the meantime, we are undermining our already inadequate efforts to invest in the one thing everyone -- Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Christian, Alabaman, New Englander, CEO, factory worker and Pottstownian -- will absolutely, unquestionably rely upon in the years to come -- the next generation.

Not only will this tax bill make it likely harder for today's children of limited means to get a good education, the bill will also increase the national debt that they will have to shoulder.

It beggars all understanding, but then, maybe I went to the wrong college.


  1. Hey Brandt - putting aside your obvious hate for President Trump and conservative values, consider an economy that is zooming along, a stock market that has added FIVE TRILLION DOLLARS in wealth since Trump was elected, unemployment at a 17 year low, consumer confidence at a 20 year high, over 2 million jobs added in the past year and oh, a GDP that has been adjusted UPWARD the last two quarters because 3% just wasn't high enough; all mind you, economic feats that your hero, the Muslim In Chief could not accomplish in EIGHT YEARS in office.

    You hate Trump, I get it. Liberals hate Trump, I get it. I'm not his biggest fan in some respects, but Washington DC and their "business as usual" must end, and the only person to do it is an OUTSIDER.

    You may attack the tax bill as much as you like, but the facts are that every tax cut from JFK, Reagan and Bushy actually increased revenues SUBSTANTIALLY to the treasury. Why didn't the tax cuts work? Congress always claims we have a revenue shortfall. Actually we don't, we have a SPENDING problem. Until Congress gets that, and as long as we keep reelecting the same idiots that don't get it America indeed will face a bankruptcy crisis.

    So attack the bill now, and in two to eight years you'll be eating a nice warm bowl of brown. When trillions of dollars are repatriated, companies start building factories and hiring more workers, increasing productivity and boosting the economy, we'll see an economy that would make Reagan jealous.

    You prefer a establishment swamp rat running the economy, I prefer a proven successful businessman, flaws included.

    Regarding your comments on college education, it is worthless to the point that colleges no longer teach them HOW to think, they try to teach them WHAT to think. That's dangerous. This generation of Social Justice Warriors love free speech, as long as it agrees with their ideologies. Liberals love choice, s long as it's not a healthcare provider or where one goes to school. The ONLY choice they hold near and dear is the choice to scissor apart a human being and suck it from the womb. Just think about how many of these aborted choices could be contributing to the roles of Social Security!

    Normally I don't read the jibberish you espouse, it was forwarded by a friend who was rendered speechless at the idiocy of your arguments.

    In closing, your myopic world view, although shared by many, will never prevail when true patriots who want to remain truly free continue to fight for the freedoms that liberals like you would like to take. No thanks dud, I'll take freedom and liberty, you can have the sloppy seconds of decades of failed Democrat policies.

    Steve Knepp, Libertarian
    Myerstown PA

    PS, Hillary lost, the only collusion was between the DNC, Clinton Campaign and the Russians, and Mueller and his cronies will all be exposed for the FRAUDS they are!

    1. Hi.
      Thanks for writing.
      I just want to be sure I understand your argument.
      The economy is doing better than it ever has, so we need tax breaks for millionaires (who don't care about your freedoms) to improve the economy...which is doing better than ever....
      And, tax cuts have not worked in the past, you say, because of Congress ... which remains the same ... so why will they work this time? Unless of course you are recommending a Democratic majority in Congress?

    2. Thanks for your feeble attempt at putting words in my mouth and your journalistic dishonesty. I didn’t say the economy is doing better than ever. I said unemployment is at a 17 year low and consumer confidence is at an 18 year high. I said the stock market has gained 5 trillion dollars in wealth since Trump was elected. Apparently you agree the economy is in much better shape after the travesty of Bushy and the Muslim in Chief.

      Is it really millionaires you detest? Who creates jobs Brandt, poor people or millionaires? If you picked millionaires you were correct. You probably had a tough time with it because of your wrong choice in colleges, but I give you credit for trying. Are the democrats opposed to doubling the child credit and the standard deduction? Are the Democrats opposed to the highest percentage of Hispanic home ownership in 20 years, and the highest percentage of black home ownership in history?

      Are the Democrats opposed to a corporate tax rate that makes America competitive with the rest of the economic world? Are the Democrats opposed to companies like Apple repatriating earnings to America and paying about $41 billion to do it? Are the Democrats opposed to getting us out of trade and climate treaties that do nothing for America and everything for foreign countries?

      Of course the Democrats are opposed to all the preceding because that frees their economic and spiritual slaves from their plantation.

      What would a Democratic majority lead to in both chambers of Congress? A return to the abysmal and failed economic policies of the 0bamas and Clintons, a return to $145 million deals selling out US uranium assets and brushing it under the rug, a return to 8 consecutive years in which GDP hovers in the anemic 1.5% range, and a return to the economic sell out of the US and ushering in the one world government without borders and one world economic system you’re so mesmerized with. That’s what it means Brandt.

      You’re so poisoned that you likely don’t realize that 70% of all taxes are paid by the top 1% of all wage earners. How do you feel about those millionaires now Brandt? The next 20% of all taxes are paid by the top 30% of wage earners. While you waylay the rich you fail to consider that by a $10,000 cap on SALT the vast majority of those you deplore will now have a higher tax burden. Oh, and by rescinding the 2nd mortgage deduction they can no longer benefit financially by owning more than one mansion.

      As I said Brandt, I’d rather see a successful businessman running this economy than the career swamp rats . . . who are also proven . . . at running a corrupt and rigged system where 435 people and their lobbyist cronies get wealthy beyond imagination at the extent of the American taxpayer. That includes you Brandt, you fund these thieves and whores and apparently take pride in doing so. Good for you.

      You should stick to reporting news because in that realm you’re pretty good at it. But when it comes to opinion your writings are devoid of facts and rife with errors. You can click your heels together as often as you’d like but it won’t bring back your idols, nor will it elevate the party of Chucky Cheese and Granny P to the throne. The failed economic policies of the Muslim in Chief and scores of others are prime examples that you can neither spend your way, nor borrow your way to prosperity. The prosperity on the horizon can only, and will only be achieved when the swamp rat resistance finally comes to grip with the reality that Hillary lost, Trump won and the sooner they get the hell off his ass and give the guy a chance that the subjects of their fiefdoms may just have a chance.

      Normally I don’t commit this much time to arguing with such fact challenged individuals because this has all been banged out on my iPad without my glasses, but for you I figured why not? I remember being in 9th grade knowing I could kick the snot out of any 7th grader but I figured why bother? But this wasn’t even that difficult of a decision.

      You really did go to the wrong college! Peace out dud.

    3. Do you insult everyone you disagree with?

  2. Oh and Brandt, one more thing, when the Muslim in Chief DOUBLED the national debt in only eight years (a remarkable accomplishment) adding more to the debt than his 43 predecessors COMBINED, WHERE WERE YOU THEN? Where were Chucky and Granny P? They were signing off and trying to rationalize it. What will the economy need to grow to offset the tax cuts? Four tenths of one percent. Word yo.

    The simple fact is that when economies grow faster than 3% GDP, the debt becomes more manageable. If they didn't teach you these simple economic facts in college, then yes, you went to the wrong college!