SYRACUSE — At a rally outside Nottingham High School Wednesday, central New York educators expressed their displeasure with U.S. Rep. John Katko for supporting the House tax bill that was approved earlier this month.
The roughly 30 teachers who marched and participated in a mock bake sale railed against the tax bill, which they believe would be bad for education and the middle class. They repeatedly chanted "Shame on Katko!" to protest the Republican congressman's vote in favor of the tax proposal.
The coalition highlighted several provisions in the tax bill that would affect them, including the elimination of a $250 deduction for teachers who purchase classroom supplies.
Megan Root, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, called the tax plan "insulting to teachers."
"Teachers have constantly been expected over the years to give all that they can give, and we do," she said. "And we spend thousands of our own dollars. We're asking for a $250 tax deduction and it's pathetic that we're not even respected enough to be given that."
The impact on education would go beyond the deduction for buying supplies. The bill would eliminate the ability to deduct student loan interest. The current tax code allows taxpayers to deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest annually.
Another provision would target graduate students who work as research or teaching assistants and receive tuition waivers. The Republican tax plan would treat the tuition benefit as taxable income.
Graduate students said they would pay higher taxes as a result of the change. College and universities contend that it will affect the number of people who pursue graduate degrees.
"They're going to be gone or can't afford it because they're going to be taxed on money they do not even receive," said Bill Spreter, central New York representative for the New York State Alliance of Retired Americans. "This is an abomination."
Spreter also lamented the potential loss of the state and local tax deduction in its current form. The deduction, which tends to benefit high-tax states like New York, allows individuals to deduct state and local income, property and sales taxes.
Katko, R-Camillus, initially voiced concern about the GOP tax plan because an earlier version of the bill would have completely eliminated the state and local tax deduction. He has stated that members of the New York House delegation urged GOP leaders to restore the deduction.
The GOP bill Katko supported would alter the state and local tax deduction by allowing homeowners to deduct up to $10,000 of state and local property taxes. However, the ability to deduct state and local income and sales taxes will end.
Spreter believes the loss of the full state and local tax deduction will hurt education.
"It will be a disaster for this country and especially for New York state," he said.
Katko was one of four New York Republicans who voted for the House GOP bill. He reiterated his support for the plan Monday at a roundtable discussion with central New York business leaders. He said the tax bill would benefit a "vast majority" of his constituents.
He also touted the benefits for businesses in his district. The GOP tax proposal would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. He believes more jobs will be created if the tax burden is reduced.
"It's going to unlock manufacturers' and businesses' potential to not only stay here but to flourish and maybe bring jobs back," he said.
The House vote earlier this month was the first hurdle for Republicans to pass tax reform legislation. The Senate is expected to vote on its proposal Thursday.
If the Senate passes its bill, both houses will form a conference committee to negotiate an agreement. The House and Senate must pass the final tax deal before it's sent to President Donald Trump for approval.