A small group of students and two top Democratic lawmakers called on Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday to sign a bill that they say will help make college more affordable for thousands of students.
Hogan (R) is scheduled to hold his final bill-signing ceremony Thursday, and it remained unclear Monday whether the governor will sign a bill that provides a tax credit of as much as $5,000 for residents who have a student loan debt that exceeds $20,000 and creates a small matching-fund program for families who use the state’s college saving program.
“Helping to relieve student debt for Maryland families is a smart investment for the state. It’s a smart investment that I hope Governor Hogan makes,” said Marc Szczepaniak, a student at University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Szczepaniak said it is a “real struggle” for many of his friends who are saddled with student loans and are anxious about how they will repay them.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) called the bill “one of the most important” pieces of legislation that was passed during the 2016 session, because it removes barriers for middle- and low-income families who want to send their children to college.
Matt Clark, a spokesman for Hogan, said in an email that the governor is reviewing the bill.
The bill calls for $34 million in mandated spending over the next four years. Hogan, who unsuccessfully sought legislation to reduce mandated spending, has criticized the Democratic-controlled legislature for bills that require the state to increase spending on programs.
Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), who sponsored the House bill, said during the news conference in Annapolis that she hopes the governor does not veto the plan. She added that the bill passed with a veto-proof majority.
Under the bill, the amount of the tax credit would be based on the amount of debt that the person carries and annual income. The bill also requires that the tax credit be repaid if the money is not used within two years to pay down the individual’s student loan.
The matching-fund program, which is similar to the employer match for a 401(k) plan, would be scaled based on income. For example, a family with an income between $175,000 and $225,000 would have to contribute $250 to receive a $250 match. An individual or couple that earns less than $100,000 would receive a $250 match for contributing $25. Households with incomes above $225,000 would not get a match from the state. Some questions have been raised about providing the $250 match to families that have incomes as high as $225,000.
The legislation also lets students who owe their college $250 in unpaid balances to register for classes for an upcoming semester, something that is currently prohibited. Students who owe more than $250 would be able to register for classes after they set up a repayment schedule for their unpaid balance.
The lawmakers estimate that about 20,000 families would be eligible for the matching-fund program and an additional 1,000 individuals could receive the tax credit.