Dr. Meehan's Response
NOTE TO STUDENTS: An important segment of President Bill Meehan's letter to
the editor in today's Chanticleer was omitted or cut by editors. Dr.
Meehan's letter is provided here in its entirety. It is in response to an
opinion piece written by Editor Danni Lusk in opposition to the tax reform
and accountability package, which voters will decide on September 9. Her
article appeared in the August 28th edition of the paper. Dr. Meehan's
complete response contains important information that students should
Dear Editor Lusk:
I respect your position as Editor of The Chanticleer and the excellent manner in which you and your staff keep our campus community informed. However, after reading your editorial last week I felt compelled to describe some of the negative consequences our students will face if the tax reform and accountability amendment fails on September 9.
A "no" vote will mean an estimated loss of $2 to $3 million at JSU. We can expect 10% budget reductions -- and the cut could go deeper. "No" means calling into question every line item in the university's budget, which will have direct consequences in the classroom. For example, students may not be able to register for required classes simply because we lack funding for additional sections. In turn, this means students might not be able to graduate on the timetable they have planned.
If the tax measure fails on September 9th students will see larger classes, out-of-control tuition, fewer scholarships, a reduction in student worker jobs, and fewer faculty (as a result of not being able to fill vacant positions). Everyone will be affected.
If the plan fails, one of the hardest-hit groups of citizens will be college students and their parents. At JSU, where tuition was raised $150 per semester in April 2003, bringing the cost of one academic year to an all-time high of $3,540, the best estimates show that tuition could easily soar another ten percent if the governor's tax plan does not pass.
The university's trustees and I were able to keep tuition lower than it might have been even as we faced the funding crisis. As a result, today JSU once again has the lowest tuition and required fees in the state following 16 and 17 percent increases respectively at the University of Alabama and Auburn University, plus increases at other universities.
Even so, tuition can still go higher. Tuition increases that are imposed due to state funding cuts are nothing more than another form of taxation. And this means that the people least able to afford the higher taxes will be the most harshly taxed in an indirect way (e.g., tuition increases that would have been unnecessary if the state had adequate funding).
In a nutshell, this is what Gov. Riley's tax plan is all about -- putting the tax burden where it belongs: on higher-income earners and corporations, and away from those least able to pay more, like students who will on average pay less state income tax. His plan does away with the need to continue to raise sales tax, which strongly affects students. Sales tax affects everything from the price of a gallon of gasoline to a bag of party snacks. Sales tax will increase dramatically causing a nickel and dime effect for students to the tune of several hundred dollars in an academic year.
So, you've got to ask yourself: Would you rather support a progressive plan that fairly places the increase on those most able to pay it, or would you rather continue to see excessive increase in tuition, fees, and sales tax and money flowing out of your pocket in greater and greater increments? Tuition, like everything else, will continue to rise over time, but not excessively. Gov. Riley's plan will ensure that we can put a stop to runaway increases.
You are absolutely right: It is a matter of trust. I trust Gov. Bob Riley and believe in the accountability measures that will be established in this amendment -- which include stiff fines and jail time if legislators act irresponsibly. And it includes a citizens oversight committee that will ensure the proper use and management of all new money. There is a lot of negative publicity being put out by opponents of tax reform -- people who are in the higher income brackets and some large corporations would rather have YOU pay more instead of accepting the responsibility themselves.
You can vote "yes" on September 9 with confidence and trust. Voting yes is indeed the right thing to do.
William A. Meehan
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