As I browsed the Committee Calendar in the Wisconsin Legislature, I noticed that it included two separate hearings on bills that target individuals for student loan relief for those that are in certain occupations and locations in the state.
One of the bills getting a hearing is one that uses student loan relief as a method to deal with the state’s shortages in public defenders.
This bill directs the Public Defender Board to establish a student loan payment pilot program for private bar attorneys who accept public defender appointments. The program would provide a payment to use to repay student loans of up to $20,000 per year for attorneys in counties with a population of 25,000 or less who agree to accept at least 50 state public defender appointments per year. The bill provides $250,000 GPR in each fiscal year of the 2017-19 biennium for the program.It’s got an interesting bipartisan group of sponsors, with some rural Republicans and some big-city and college-town Democrats. It seems to be a public defender’s version of a program from Wisconsin’s Office of Rural Health that writes off loans for physicians and psychiatrists who take practice in rural and underserved urban communities.
Staying on the subject of student loan relief, there’s another bill getting a hearing this week in the Assembly’s Health Committee that tries to encourage new psychiatrists to start their practice in Wisconsin, to the point where they may be able to practice without paying a dime of taxes.
This bill creates an individual income tax subtract modification, or deduction, for up to $200,000 of income earned in this state by a psychiatrist, in the taxable year to which the claim relates, from the practice of psychiatry. The deduction may not be claimed for more than ten years, and must be claimed during the ten-year period that begins once the claimant first claims the credit. The deduction must be claimed initially within the first two years that a psychiatrist begins to practice in this state, or within the first two years that a psychiatrist returns to this state after practicing in another state for at least one year. If an individual begins to claim the deduction and is then ineligible to claim the deduction in any year that he or she is a full-year resident of this state, the individual may again claim the deduction in a future year if eligible to do so. If an individual begins to claim the deduction but is unable to claim it for ten consecutive years because he or she leaves the state, the individual must add to his or her tax that is due for the year in which he or she leaves the state the total gross tax that would have been due if the subtraction was not claimed for any year minus the amount of gross tax actually due for those years. In addition, an individual who is eligible for and claims the deduction may not claim the homestead tax credit.Well, if the State Legislature finds it important to write off the student loans and give tax breaks for certain professions in need, why not expand it to the rest of the population with student loans? That's what some Legislative Democrats have asked for, with a student loan relief bill that all debtors can take advantage of.
A pair of Democratic lawmakers is reintroducing for the third time a proposal that would allow student loans to be refinanced at lower interest rates, but the bill is unlikely to gain traction in Wisconsin's Republican-led Legislature.But Republicans aren't giving that bill a hearing this week, despite the alleged desire by this Governor to make the state more attractive for younger workers. That seems to be yet another example of WisGOP policies (or inaction) being a significant barrier in reaching WisGOP's alleged economic goals.
The bill, authored by Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, would create a Wisconsin Student Loan Refinancing Authority, modeled after the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
The authority would be charged with creating a system to buy federal and private loans and refinance them at lower rates. Under the bill, borrowers would also be able to deduct student loan payments from their income taxes.
And student loan debt is a legitimate economic problem. The One Wisconsin Institute did a study of workers in 2011, and found that student loan debt played a significant role in delaying and/or preventing individuals from buying new vehicles or homes. Add in Wisconsin's notoriously substandard wages, and it's not that surprising that the state is having a problem attracting and keeping younger talent?
So if members of both parties recognize that student loan relief and tax credits for certain occupations is a method that can get younger workers to come to and/or stay in Wisconsin in certain fields, why aren't we applying that strategy to all people statewide? It seems a much better investment of tax dollars than blowing $7 million on an ad campaign that doesn't match reality, which is what Gov Walker wants to do.