The Tax Bill: What Can We Do?

By Tomas Capaldi, PhD 2019

As always, this blog post represents the personal views of the author and are not the official positions of UT or the Jackson School of Geosciences.

“…We know things are bad- worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy…” – The Network, 1979

This classic rant from the movie The Network has a new meaning for me this past year. Especially since two versions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act have now passed the Senate and House of Representatives. As we know it is a strongly partisan bill with no Democratic support and both versions with their own flaws. However the House version has removed a key provision Section 117(d) from the IRS Code, which exempts tuition waivers from being considered taxable income. This provision has kept graduate school a bearable 2-6 year financial excursion for students across the country. With the removal Section 117(d) we can expect our taxes to raise 266% from $1,036 to $3,791. With a typical stipend of $2000-1800 at JSG we would have to save over $400 each month to pay the government every April.

What can we do:

Fig 1: Gerrymandering of Austin, TX
Fig 1: Gerrymandering of Austin, TX

Tell our representatives NO. We are vehemently against the provisions in the House of Representatives’ Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bill that places unequal financial burden on a social class that is incapable to handle such tax increases, outside of personal wealth or new student loans. We must view it from their side. Austin is a significantly gerrymandered city (Fig. 1) with each district having a spectrum of social-economic class, so when a specific, small number (i.e. graduate students) of constituents gets unfairly taxed they might not see a big problem. The key to convincing them to keep Section 117(d) is not just emphasizing the financial burden it places on the graduate student working body, but the impact it will have on higher education in general. The American Council on Education estimates that the House bill would increase the cost to students attending collage by more than $65 billion between 2018 and 2027. The large scale financial impacts are what will garner the representatives attention, especially since a huge component of these districts are reliant on large educational institutions. We need to voice our concerns, the more that do the greater impact we can have on ensuring Sec. 117(d) remains in the U.S. tax code. We must convince them this section is in place for the betterment of their districts, their states, and all of their constituents.

How to Contact Them:

Here is a list of contact information for the Texas Senators and Austin’s Representatives (Fig. 2):

Twitter Handle
Sen. John Cornyn R 202-224-2934 @JohnCornyn
Sen. Ted Cruz R 202-224-5922 @SenTedCruz
Rep. Lloyd Doggett D 35th 202-225-4865 @RepLloydDoggett
Rep. Bill Flores R 17th 202-225-6105 @RepBillFlores
Rep. Michael McCaul R 10th 202-225-2401 @McCaulPressShop
Rep. Lamar Smith R 21st 202-225-4236 @LamarSmithTX21
Rep. Roger Williams R 25th 202-225-9896 @RepRWilliams
Fig 2: Current Texas Senators and Representatives for Austin, TX
Fig 2: Current Texas Senators and Representatives for Austin, TX


Call these Senators and Representatives telling them to keep Section 117(d) in the IRS Code when they merge the two versions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Social Media:

Use their twitter handles to voice your opinion.


Each Senator and Representative (except Rep. Doggett) do not have an email to contact them from, rather they have a relatively intensive system to ensure ONLY their constituents are contacting them. Here is a work flow to help you along:

1) Determine your Representative via this Congressional Map

2) Find your 9 digit zip code for the email form using the USPS website!input.action

3) Use the correct email form link provided in the table above

4) Enter in all necessary personal data

5) Write your message to repeal the House’s version that removes Section 117(d)

My Example:

(Warning, cheesy…)

Dear Representative Williams,

I am Tomas Capaldi, a PhD student studying Geological sciences at the Jackson School of Geosciences, at The University of Texas, at Austin. I am writing today to convince you the removal of Section 117(d) from the IRS Code will negatively impact at the personal level, the University level, the district level, and the state level. The House of Representatives’ Tax Cuts and Jobs Act seeks to remove Section 117(d), which will result in a 266% increase in my annual taxes. With a stipend of $20,000 a year I would have to save 18% each month just to pay taxes every April on top of the increasing cost of living in the Austin area. This increase in cost will have to be made up by a new means. This will inevitable raise tuition for all students to maintain The University of Texas’ mission to produce leading edge research, as our motto goes “What starts here changes the world.”

Jackson School of Geosciences are risen to become the top institute for Earth Science Research. Jackson School Geoscientist are an integral part of the Texas community, economy, and infrastructure. Our graduate students worked tirelessly in emergency response teams during Hurricane Harvey to help predict areas expected to flood in real time, saving lives and resources. Graduate students help establish Texas’s first Seismic Network to better understand the rise in seismicity in the urban areas throughout the state. We work to prepare future educators who teach undergraduate majors and non-majors to better understanding the Earth in every aspect possible, especially on the natural resources of Texas. We provide the next generation of secondary and University instructors who have educated numerous generations of Texans to respect and understand how to conserve our states resources. Our School produces advance degree students who largely remain in Texas to fill advance positions in the oil and gas industry (12% GDP of Texas), construction and infrastructure, engineering, renewable energy sectors, government, and environmental resources.

All of what The University of Texas provides the state will be drastically hindered by the removal of Section 117(d). The result would be less graduate students performing less research, and providing fewer Texans with advance education into the future workforce, and increasing tuition for each University. Representative Williams, vote against removing Section 117(d) from the IRS Code in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for your district and for higher education. Thank you for your time.


Cover photo: Recent grad student protest of Tax Bill on UT campus, from Gus Bova for The Texas Observer