Instead of responding to the facts about the recent tax reform debate, the editorial writers at the Herald-Leader seem to, once again, choose to blame me for everything — including things I specifically fought to prevent. So I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. The recent suggestion that I am somehow responsible for the new tax on Berea College is not only factually incorrect, but it also ignores the hypocrisy coming from Senate Democrats.
I was proud to work with my colleagues in Congress and the Trump administration to deliver tax reform. When President Trump signed our bill into law, he ensured that taxes for Kentucky families will be lower, simpler and fairer. Small businesses will also get much-needed relief to help them grow, invest and hire. This tax reform law is an important step to getting our economy growing again, and the people of Kentucky will begin to see the benefits in their paychecks soon.
The tax reform bill was the result of a years-long effort which included dozens of hearings, committee markups and an open amendment process. This bill became law through the regular order, and any argument to the contrary simply ignores the facts.
Senate Democrats opposed this tax relief legislation every step of the way. What’s worse, at the last moment, they launched a direct assault against an institution dedicated to helping low-income students earn a college degree. I supported a provision of the tax reform bill to protect institutions like Berea College, a school which offers a tuition-free education to students who may have no other opportunity to afford college. Many of Berea’s students come from the Appalachian region, and the students’ average household income is less than $30,000 per year.
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The measure I championed would have ensured that Berea’s endowment wouldn’t suffer a tax in the same way as schools like Harvard University. It’s illogical that a school like Berea should be taxed like Harvard, whose endowment is almost 30 times larger and isn’t used as aggressively to make tuition more affordable, let alone to pursue a tuition-free mission like Berea’s.
By exploiting a procedural tactic, the Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, unanimously voted to strike a provision of the tax reform bill that protected the school. They took out their hostility to tax reform on schools like Berea and penalized them despite the fact that Berea provides scholarships to low-income students. And they chose to do it after the same provision had already passed the Senate before we went to conference.
Berea, founded as a Christian college by abolitionists in 1855, uses its endowment from generous donors to give scholarships to every one of its students. But Senate Democrats chose partisan politics over good ideas and ensured that’s exactly what happened. Now, Berea may be subjected to an added tax of nearly $1 million every year.
Berea’s president has already explained what the result of this new tax will be. The school will be forced to offer scholarships to fewer students, denying some of Kentucky’s poorest young people the chance to earn a college degree.
Sanders and the Democrats didn’t need to raise this objection. They could have left the protection for schools like Berea in place and still voted against the bill, thereby sparing Berea from this tax. But instead, the man who claims to believe that our country should have free college for all decided to push a penalty on a school that offers tuition-free education. It’s utterly illogical, and it won’t stand.
Since Democrats struck Berea’s protection from the bill, I have spoken with the school’s president to tell him I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress, including Congressman Andy Barr, to solve the problem. By undoing this partisan attack, we can help Berea continue its inspiring work for Kentucky’s students.
Mitch McConnell is Kentucky’s senior senator and majority leader of the United States Senate.