DENVER — Democratic leadership in both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly made it clear as the session opened last week that tackling mounting student loan debt would be a major priority. At first blush, however, the issue doesn’t appear to be gaining the bipartisan traction it will need to pass in a split legislature.
SB 68, a measure that would create a state tax deduction for student loan debt and also cap interest rates on private loans, has been assigned to the state affairs committee. This in contrast to other education issues such as reducing standardized testing, which has fairly robust bipartisan support and has already yielded two bills headed for the education committee.
“We are working to make college more affordable for middle class families, fighting for what is right and fair,” said sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, in a release about the bill. “Having taught for over two decades, it is difficult to see students take on heavy debt to continue their education after high school.”
The measure’s co-sponsor, Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, noted that 70 percent of students who graduate from public schools in Colorado leave with debt — an average of $26,000 for a bachelor’s degree. They would enjoy some relief next year if the bill passes.
“The savings would be in the hundreds of dollars, but when you’re in tight circumstances that’s a lot of money,” said Jones.
In addition to creating a tax deduction for those already in debt, the bill would also cap future private student loans at 2 percent above the federal interest rate. Jones said he’s willing to negotiate on this if his colleagues have alternative ideas, but he does think a cap is in order.
“Private debt goes up to 18 percent right now, it’s like a credit card,” he said. “Meanwhile banks are getting money from the feds for less than 1 percent.”
Jones said he was disappointed the bill is heading to the legislative dungeon that is the state affairs committee but that he still holds out hope for the measure.
“It was pounded into me as a kid that the way you get ahead in life is you go to college, you apply yourself and you achieve a better life. That is going away in our country and one big reason is all the student loan debt. It’s so much harder to get a degree now,” he said. “People are going to have to make a choice about whether they’ll vote for regular people or not.”
[Photo by Jagz Mario.]