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Grinch, students ask Sen. Toomey's help on tax legislation

Debra Erdley
| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 5:06 p.m.
Members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union protest outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union protest outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union deliver letters to the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union deliver letters to the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union protest outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union protest outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Letters in opposition to the tax reform bill are boxed and await delivery to the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Letters in opposition to the tax reform bill are boxed and await delivery to the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Abby Cartus, 29, of the North Side leads chants as members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union protest outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Abby Cartus, 29, of the North Side leads chants as members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union protest outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union protest outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Members of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers Union protest outside the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.

This time, the Grinch delivered.

Accompanied by a contingent of about 50 University of Pittsburgh students and faculty members, a costumed Grinch delivered more than 1,000 letters to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's downtown Pittsburgh office Wednesday after­noon.

The group, organized by the Pitt Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the United Steel Workers union, was turned away when members sought permission to take an elevator to Toomey's 14th-floor office to deliver the letters. But a Toomey staffer who said there was no one available to talk with members of the group came down to the security desk to accept the Grinch's deliveries.

The letters, penned a week before final exams, sought the Pennsylvania Republican's support for the elimination of provisions in a House version of the sweeping tax bill that many say would harm access to higher education. Among the provisions in question were the elimination of federal tax deductions for interest on student loans and taxing graduate student tuition waivers and tuition remission for faculty children as income.

Those provisions were not in the Senate version of the bill but could remain in the final version of the legislation, now pending for reconciliation in a conference committee.

A Toomey staffer said numerous constituents, including college students, have contacted Toomey about the tax bill.

“When looking at a tax reform package, it is important to remember that it extends beyond singular changes and deductions. So while both the House and Senate plans adjust tax treatment for certain entities and eliminate certain deductions, they both also lower rates, double the standard deduction and increase the child tax credit, resulting in a net tax cut for millions of working-class and middle-income Pennsylvanians,” Toomey wrote in an email.

The Pitt group isn't abandoning its efforts to speak with Toomey.

“We filled out a meeting request form asking to meet with him Monday,” said Beth Shaaban, a graduate student studying epidemiology at Pitt.

The House version of the tax bill has encountered widespread opposition from colleges and universities as well as higher education advocacy groups who say it would drive up costs and restrict access to higher education. Last week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest multidisciplinary science society, joined the university groups, noting that about 60 percent of the graduate students who receive waivers are in science, technology, engineering and math programs that are critical to the nation.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib

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