The Maryland General Assembly reconvenes next week in Annapolis, and Gov. Larry Hogan has been in recent weeks outlining his full plate of legislative priorities.
Last month, Hogan laid out his top legislative priority dealing with infrastructure. He wants to repeal the so-called “Road Kill Bill,” which he maintains is the culprit in the elimination of many major transportation projects across the state. He’s hoping to follow the same course as last year when he was able to do away with the so-called “rain tax.”
While transportation and infrastructure funding is always critical, another focus for Hogan this year has to do with the rising cost of higher education and the mountain of debt many students graduate with as a result.
Being saddled with debt in the tens of thousands of dollars in their early-20s is no way to start a professional life, but that’s the reality for the majority of college graduates. It’s become accepted and it’s not right. It should be unacceptable. It’s simply too expensive and the cost increases annually in most cases.
Hogan’s plan tackles this in two steps. One is a plan to perpetually cap annual tuition increases at 2 percent for the 12 public universities in Maryland. Hogan reported the university system typically seeks increases in the 5 percent range each year and this would let leaders know early on no increase beyond 2 percent will be considered. The initiative is estimated to cost the state approximately $17 million in the first year.
Additionally, and this likely faces the tougher haul in Annapolis as similar measures in the past have not been signed into law, the governor plans to introduce the Student Debt Relief Act of 2017. It would permit state residents making under $200,000 or couples under $250,000 to annually deduct student loan interest from their state income taxes. The proposed law would also provide a tax credit of no more than $5,000 for residents with a student-loan debit in excess of $20,000.
History tells us the third year of a governor’s four-year term is typically the most productive. Hogan’s approval ratings are off the charts — 63 percent among Democrats and 88 percent among Republicans according to an OpinionWorks poll — but whether that translates into legislative success getting his priorities passed is not a given for a Republican governor in a Democratically-controlled legislature and state.
The good news is the tuition cap appears to have the support necessary among legislators and the student debt relief bill mirrors a measure that did not receive the governor’s signature last year because of certain specifics he didn’t support.
The cost of college and the associated debt that comes with it for many young people is a major talking point among Maryland families. It’s major source of stress beginning early on in the high school years as parents fret over how they can help their kids while not crippling their own resources.
The legislature would be wise to quickly approve these measures without letting partisan politics slow them. That’s easier said than done, but with a $500 million-plus deficit to address over the next few months it’s a good course to chart.