Senator Nick Frentz and Representative-elect Jeff Brand visited the 90th Student Government during their final meeting of the fall semester.
Frentz spoke to the senators about a possible tuition freeze. According to him, Minnesota is not living up to its promise to cover two-thirds of higher education costs. The state’s budget allocates roughly 40% of these costs to be covered by the state leaving students responsible for the remaining 60%. According to Senate President Emma Zellmer, the state contribution is about 33% for Minnesota State University, Mankato students.
“We’re nowhere near that (two-thirds). The state is breaking its promise to you. We pay about 40-43%. Why, because that’s just what previous legislators chose to do. We spent the money on something else or they reduced taxes for wealthy people or whoever it is,” Frentz said. “Higher education funding is one of the best investments we can make in the state. One of the reasons Minnesota has been successful over the last hundred years is generally we have invested more in higher education. It’s just that we’re breaking our promise to students now, which is why we find more students stressed, not just for tuition reasons, but for basic needs reasons.”
Both Frentz and Brand were questioned about their stance on student loan forgiveness taxation. Under the Biden-Harris Administration’s Student Debt Relief Plan President Joe Biden made an executive order to forgive up to $20,000 in individual student loan debt, which was struck down by a federal judge in Texas. Minnesota has a “basic accounting rule,” according to Frentz, that requires forgiven debt to be taxed as income. Should the Supreme Court rule in Biden’s favor of the debt relief, any amount of student loan forgiveness students and past students qualify for will be taxed.
Brand said, “That’s a tax conformity issue. That’s a conversation we need to have in Minnesota,” and he hopes to return to the tax committee when the legislative session resumes and he supports eliminating taxes on student loan forgiveness, as he foresees this coming into question in the next session.
Frentz said he is “neutral on forgiveness” but would rather see tuition decreased, so students do not need to borrow large amounts of money. This would be the case if the state’s budget allocated more money for higher education to reach the “promised” 60% coverage.
Brand also spoke on the issue, and called attention to the state’s $9-12 billion surplus as a possible source for higher education funds and a viable tuition freeze.
“But, we also have some really big challenges. We have housing challenges that we have to address. We have some tax fairness issues that we have to address. Our healthcare system is sick and our students at the E-12 level don’t have the fully-funded education that I think we owe it to our students to provide. So, there are a lot of challenges, but we have resources to do a lot of those good things right now. I would characterize that (tuition freeze) within that category of things that we can accomplish,” Brand said.
The senate passed a motion to increase stipends for graduate assistants; motioned by Zellmer and seconded by Senator Bruce Wenzel.
The motion calls for stipends to be increased from $10,000 yearly to $18,000, as graduate assistants “have not seen an increase in many years,” according to the resolution.
Senator Douglas Roberts (who uses they/them pronouns) has been vocal about this issue, since they passed a similar motion last spring. Senator Darlington Sehgbean said it is “frustrating” to continuously pass resolutions to increase graduate assistant pay with no changes made by administration.
“This is something the senate has passed before, and it is somehow frustrating that we have to keep passing resolutions about something that means a lot to students and that senators have voted on. I really support this resolution and I hope we will not pass another resolution again,” Sehgbean said.
The resolution passed unanimously and awaits further action by administration.
The meeting also included presentations from Resident Hall Association President Sierra Roiger about the 2023-2024 proposed room and meal plan rates, a new RSO called Mental Health Mankato and a sociology student led Basic Needs Research Group who presented their research on the link between transportation access and food insecurity.
Header photo: Senator Nick Frentz attended the last Student Government meeting of the semester by talking about a potential tuition freeze. Frentz answered students’ questions about student loans and taxation forgiveness as well. (Dominic Bothe/The Reporter)
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