Michigan 2020 Plan To Pay Students' College Tuition Gets Hearing At State Senate Finance Committee

Republicans Respond To Democrats' Free College Tuition Plan

Michigan Democrats' plan to give students major grants for in-state college tuition at public universities reached the state Senate Finance Committee Wednesday.

While the presentation of the "Michigan 2020 Plan" to the majority-Republican committee is a step forward for the Democrats' initiative, according to the Detroit Free Press, Chairman Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Township) said he didn't think the committee's Republicans would support the bills.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), who presented the plan, said she hoped the committee would act quickly to send it to a vote.

The legislation would give Michigan high school graduates about $9,600 yearly -- or the median cost of tuition for in-state schools -- to attend a public Michigan college or university. Democrats say the $1.8 billion tuition assistance program would come with no additional tax burden for Michigan residents; instead it would be funded by closing tax loopholes.

The Michigan 2020 Plan proposes cutting 10 percent of the $35 billion Democrats say the state loses annually in tax expenditures. The bills would create a commission that would look at state tax benefits and determine those that can be eliminated, the Detroit News reports.

But Brandenburg told MLive improving the environment for businesses could be more helpful for students in the long run as they become job-seekers.

"I don't think the state can afford the $9,600 along with the personal property tax cut to manufacturers and small manufacturers," he said, referring to pending Republican-backed legislation to eliminate Michigan's personal property tax. "I think we really have to concentrate on getting the economy back on track."

On the side of Michigan 2020, economist Lou Glazer with Ann Arbor think tank Michigan Future, testified the best predictor of a state’s per capita income is the proportion of adults with a four-year college degree.

While it seems unlikely the Michigan 2020 Plan will get approval from the state's Republicans, the time is ripe for its discussion: As spiraling college costs continue to be a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign, different solutions for student loan debt have gained attention.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted for a controversial bill that stops interest rates on federal student loans from doubling, but at the same time cut a preventative health care plan.

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