If there is one issue that needs bipartisan support, student loan debt is it, Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said Wednesday after circulating a bill that would tackle student loan debt issues for Wisconsin families.
Bill sponsor Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said the “Higher Ed, Low Debt” bill would help give tax relief to the 753,000 Wisconsin families with federal loan debt, in addition to those with private loan debt.
“I’m reaching across the aisle — bipartisan support would be great — and let’s just get it done,” Hansen said. “If you want to grow the economy and stimulate the economy, let’s do it.”
At a Wednesday press conference, Mason and Hansen were joined by Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now executive director, who has conducted extensive research on student loan debt during the last several years.
After surveying 2,700 people across Wisconsin, Ross said Wisconsinites with student loan debt are two-thirds more likely to be a renter rather than a homeowner, in addition to being two-thirds more likely to buy a used car than a new car.
“As we see plants closing in places like south central Wisconsin and south eastern Wisconsin, it is clear student loan debt is a clear and present danger to the Wisconsin economy,” Ross said.
The bill includes provisions to create a state authority that provides loan counseling and a ranking system of loan providers for students and their families, would allow borrowers to deduct student loan payments from their income taxes beyond the years they are in school and includes a requirement to track information about student loan debt in Wisconsin.
The state authority would also be able to help borrowers refinance their loans, just as Wisconsin residents can do with home mortgages, Mason said.
Ross said he just finished paying his student loan debt this year on his 44th birthday, after he began making payments in 1987.
Ross added he was unable to refinance his loans after consolidating them, so he had to continue paying his loans at a 7.85 percent interest rate, even though the rates had gone down to about 2 percent a few years after he graduated from school.
Sara Graves, a 30-year-old mother of three, also spoke of trying to support a family while paying off her loans she accumulated after attending UW-Eau Claire.
“We aren’t asking for a bailout,” Graves said. “We are asking for a little bit more control over our family’s finances.”
Mason said he and other Joint Finance Committee members have discussed creating similar tax breaks for middle-class families.
Several Republican legislators on the JFC said they would be willing to look at any “real” proposals regarding tax credits for student loan debt, Mason said.
Ross added his organization has given several presentations to Democratic legislators on One Wisconsin Now’s student loan debt research, which some Republican staff members have attended.
“This is an issue that cuts across every geographic region,” Mason said. “It’s not an 18-22 issue but it impacts people into their 30s and 40s, even their 50s. People are asking, ‘Will I be able to pay off my student loans before my kids get to college?’”
Calls to Republican legislators of the JFC were not returned.