Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Legislators make a very smart budget move with college financial aid

The General Assembly made a smart move this week by transforming Governor Blagojevich's proposal for a tuition tax credit for students' parents into a regular grant to students.

Governor Blagojevich plans to sell the state's portfolio of student loans to a private company, generating a ton of money. At least $90 million of those proceeds were to fund a tax credit for the parents of children who earned more than a B average in school. This laudable goal of making college more affordable suffered from a few distributive flaws (why parents and not children? why the wealthy and not the needy?) but had the powerful advantage of almost certainly polling very well. This was shaping up to be an example of politics-over-policy, as the Clintonian stategy of "targeted tax relief" as a message for a candidate works well in attracting wealthy suburban women (and other demographics with money).

To their credit, the General Assembly and the Governor dropped the idea of a tax credit and instead plan to put the money into regular grant programs.

Never let it be said that the General Assembly and Governor Blagojevich put politics over policy! Well, everyone does that sometimes, but this particular issue is a happy example of policy over politics. After all, funding the MAP program and even creating a new "MAP-Plus" program for kids from wealthier families will not play as well on the campaign trail as passing a college tax credit -- but they did it anyway. (How do I know that? If it's in a Blagojevich commercial, you know it plays very well, and the tax credit had been featured prominently in his commercials.)

I'll repeat: Governor Blagojevich and the Democratic General Assembly took a political hit in order to do the right thing on higher education affordability.

The bill creating the MAP-Plus program for kids ($500 for students, contingent on the sale of the loans -- not just a tax credit for parents) is HB 1945 (read House Amendment 2 here).

The Pre-School for All program, by the way, is HB 2013, and you can read that one here. I haven't been following that debate.

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