The final version of the Republican tax bill was released Friday, offering compromises across a range of issues important to scientists and researchers in the US, according to David Malakoff, writing for Science. In many cases, advocates were able to win some battles against measures that would have dealt a blow to science, research, and academia in the US. In other cases, these measures made it into the final version, including a provision opening the Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, and a cut to tax breaks for drug companies researching medication for rare diseases.
The final bill is a compromise between Senate and House versions of the tax plan, which entails the most significant overhaul of the US tax code in decades. Each version was written quickly without public input, and neither received any votes from Democrats or Independent legislators. In recent weeks, supporters of science and research relied on a combination of negotiation and protest to address issues of concern before the final version is sent to President Trump.
The final bill still cuts tax credits to companies researching drugs for rare diseases that affect less than 200,000 people – but only by 25 percent, instead of the 50 percent cut proposed by the House tax bill. Patient groups are nonetheless concerned this could slow the development of new drugs.
One of the most controversial features of the House version of the bill was a measure that would have forced graduate students to pay taxes on the value of tuition waivers received in exchange for their work. The measure would have doubled or tripled the tax burden of these (often already financially pressed) graduate students, ultimately discouraging the pursuit of higher degrees. A wave of protests from graduate students and supporters helped to assure this provision did not make it into the final version.
In an important victory for climate advocates, the final bill keeps in place tax incentives for renewable energy projects, and for the purchase of electric vehicles.
Another measure, protecting nonprofit research groups from taxation on their income, will remain in place in the tax bill. The House bill would have stipulated that the income is tax-free only if the research is “freely available to the general public.”
However, a provision opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling remains in the final bill, despite grave concerns and protests from conservationists.
The House is expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday, with a Senate vote following later this week.
“This is going to be one of the great gifts to the middle-income people of this country that they’ve ever gotten for Christmas,” Trump said to reporters this past weekend.