NORMAL — More than 150 people gathered on the Illinois State University quad at noon Wednesday to protest tax reform legislation pending in Congress, particularly its impact on education.

Most of them then walked to uptown Normal for a second rally.

Ben King, an ISU grad student in applied economics, said, “It would more than double what I pay in taxes.”

That is not an exaggeration.

Amy Hurd, director of ISU's graduate school, said university officials have “run the numbers” and found taxes for graduate students would go up 100 percent if the House provision makes its way into the final version of the bill.

Hurd said the average graduate assistant makes about $1,000 a month on a nine-month contract. But the House provision would tax them on “$17,500 that they never get to see on a paycheck,” said Hurd.

King said, “I'm going to do what I can to stay in school,” but added it would be difficult.

Rachael DiSciullo, a graduate student in biology from West Chester, Pa., said the tax changes would “make grad school an elitist endeavor.”

ISU senior Michelle Hunt of Bloomington, who returned to school for a bachelor's degree after a stint in the Navy, said she hopes to go to graduate school and that she and her husband worked and planned so they would not have to go deeply in debt.

“With this looming grad tax on tuition waivers, all those plans are about to go up in smoke,” said Hunt, who spoke at the second half of the rally in uptown Normal.

More than half of those attending the campus rally walked to the office of U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis in uptown Normal, chanting “Kill the bill” and “No grad tax.”

Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, voted for the bill but opposes the provision regarding taxation of tuition waivers and hopes to see it eliminated when the House and Senate bills are reconciled.

Marchers found the congressman's office was closed and continued the rally on Uptown Circle with several more speakers.

Other elements of the tax bill that critics have attacked are ones that would tax employees who receive employer-funded tuition assistance and end deductions for student loan interest, state and local taxes and for teachers who buy supplies for their classrooms.

“This government is going to ruin education,” said Jenna Campbell, a graduate student in social work from Bloomington.

Julie Webber, a professor of politics and government, said the bill would “probably wipe out many graduate programs at major research universities.”

Many at the rally also criticized the tax plan as a whole, saying it helps corporations and higher-income individuals at the expense of middle- and lower-income families and the most vulnerable.

King said it's a bad bill that would increase the deficit with no evidence that the corporate tax cut would spur growth.

Several speakers reminded those in attendance that there is still time to prevent the tax bill from becoming law and urged them to contact their representatives and congressional leaders. They also urged protesters to stay involved and be sure to vote.

Although tax measures passed in both the House and Senate, differences in the bills must be ironed out in a conference committee before it can be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.

“I am here because there is still hope,” said Samantha Case of Normal, who recently received her master's degree in social work. “We need to remind our legislators what we the people stand for.”

Arlene Hosea, a Normal Township board member and retired ISU Dining Services director, said: “We need to stick together. It's not about what's good for me; it's what's good for us.”

Among those involved in sponsoring the rallies were the progressive group Voices of Reason, the Service Employees International Union group working to unionize graduate students, YWCA McLean County and College Democrats at ISU.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter @Pg_Sobota

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