WASHINGTON (Oct. 3)
The House Ways and Means Committee voted 18-6 today to draft legislation to reduce federal income tax payments of parents with children in non-public schools. The committee, headed by Rep. Wilbur D. Mills (D. Ark.) directed its staff to draw up a bill that would allow credits against income taxes of 50 percent of the tuition payments to non-public elementary and high schools, the credit not to exceed $200 per child.
The House committee’s action followed by one day a 2-1 ruling by a federal district court in New York that declared constitutional a provision of the NY State omnibus school aid bill allowing tax credits for the parents of non-public school pupils. The court rejected as unconstitutional a second provision of the bill that would have reimbursed non-public school parents for part of their tuition. A third provision allowing “maintenance and repair” grants to non-public schools was declared unconstitutional last May. The NY ruling was hailed as a victory by proponents of state aid for non-public schools.
The House committee instructed its staff to include in the draft legislation language that would bring about a graduated credit system affecting parents in higher income brackets. Under the proposed system, one dollar of tax credit would be lost for every $20 of adjusted gross income above $18,000. The JTA was told that the legislation is to be drafted during the coming week for review by the committee. The bill, if adopted, would become effective next Aug. 1. But with Congress scheduled to adjourn in less than two weeks, Capitol Hill observers felt that the bill had no chance of adoption during the current session.
The federal court decision in New York was described by Rabbi Moshe Sherer, executive president of the Agudat Israel of America, as “strong impetus” for enactment of a tax credit bill on the national level. Howard Rhine, president of the National Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), said, “The validation of the tax credit concept is an important event in the development of church-state relations in this nation.” He said it recognized “the fiscal realities of the 1970s and basic fair-ness.”
Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky, national director of Torah Umesorah, said the tax credit ruling was “encouraging” but said the over-ruling of the tuition rebates and maintenance grants represented “a callous disregard for the health of children and the needs of the disadvantaged.”
The Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty (PEARL), which challenged the NY omnibus school aid bill in court, indicated that it would continue its fight against tax credits for non-public school parents. PEARL counsel Leo Pfeffer said that having “won two out of three parts of our suit” he would take the tax credit case “immediately” to the US Supreme Court. PEARL is a coalition of 33 Jewish and other organizations opposed to state aid to non-public schools.