Guest column: The taxpayer trough is crowded

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Rod Haxton
Scott County Record

It’s easy to understand the divide in the student loan forgiveness debate.
On one side, it’s impossible to ignore that as college costs have risen, so has student debt which now averages about $38,000 in the U.S. and $33,000 in Kansas.
On the other side are those who paid off their student loan debt, business start-up debt, etc., and resent the prospect of others getting a “free ride.”
We, too, have wrestled with the dilemma of what’s fair and unfair.
First of all, a plan to forgive $10,000 or maybe $20,000 in student loans isn’t a free ride. Secondly, it ignores how states – including Kansas – have contributed to this debt problem.
According to data from the Kansas Board of Regents, state funding per student attending the state’s universities declined from nearly $9,000 in 2001 to about $5,500 in 2015.
That was further compounded in 2015 and 2016 when Gov. Sam Brownback cut $63 million from higher education, including almost $5.5 million from two-year technical schools and community colleges.
It’s no coincidence that since 2014, one year of tuition and required fees at Kansas State University, for example, have increased by 21 percent, to just over $10,400 in 2022. As the state has reduced its support for higher education over the past two decades, someone had to make up the difference and we know who that is.
It’s also why the average student loan debt for graduates of Kansas institutions has increased by about $7,000 since 2012.
While everyone should be concerned about the impact on the ballooning national debt, the howls of hypocritical anguish are loudest from Republicans who point out that the debt forgiveness plan will cost taxpayers about $500 billion.
Or, as conservative Kansas publisher Dane Hicks (The Anderson County Review) bemoaned, “Where’s the fairness in rewarding a slim segment of borrowers who are generally better off and who just happen to mostly vote Democrat?”
Fair question. Since Hicks is groping for an answer, maybe we can help.
For a little historical perspective, the price tag on the Trump tax cut was $1.5 trillion over 10 years – three times higher than student loan forgiveness.
According to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, 20-25 percent of the tax cut benefits have gone to the top 1 percent of wealthy individuals in the U.S. But, starting in 2027, the top 1 percent will receive 100 percent of the benefits.
In the first year after Trump signed the legislation, just 82 ultrawealthy households collectively walked away with more than $1 billion in total savings, based on an analysis of tax records.
Which begs the question: “Where’s the fairness in rewarding a slim segment of wealthy Americans who are generally better off and who just happen to mostly vote Republican?”
That doesn’t even begin to justify how 55 of America’s largest corporations paid no federal income tax in 2020 even though they collectively had earnings of almost $40.5 billion.
But why stop there? From their own glass houses, Republican lawmakers were throwing stones at the student loan forgiveness program after cashing in their own Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) checks.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted that, “For our government just to say ok your debt is completely forgiven…it’s completely unfair.” Yet there was nothing unfair about her accepting $183,504 in PPP loans that were forgiven.
So spare us the sanctimonious tirade about how our young people just need to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” like the rest of us.
What’s really being said to our debt-burdened college graduates is that, “You haven’t yet earned the right to feed at the taxpayer trough like the rest of us.”
Young people are no more guilty of seeking a government handout than the 11.8 million businesses that received PPP loans or the more than 643,000 farms that receive government subsidies, including more than 36,100 in Kansas.
They aren’t abusing the system anymore than those individuals on the Forbes 400 list who paid an effective tax rate of 8.2 percent, compared to a teacher who pays a personal tax rate of 11.7 percent on income of just over $40,000.
Don’t blame students for wanting to be relieved of overwhelming debt which keeps them from moving out of their parent’s basement and getting on with their lives. They just arrived at the party after the rest of us.
If the goal is to be fair and just, student loan debt forgiveness can’t be condemned in a vacuum without also debating tax policies that favor the wealthy, the impact of state budget cuts and the rationale behind government giveaways.
This isn’t a Republican or a Democrat problem, but one that affects the economic well-being for all of us.
Editor’s note: Rod Haxton is publisher of The Scott County Record. He can be reached at editor@screcord.com