Two of the Democrats jockeying to replace outgoing Rep. Allyson Schwartz say
their opponent is copying their proposal to ease loan debt for Pa. students.
In the last few days, State Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Phila) and State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montco) have both touted their own similarly named bills to aid college students with their tuition. The only problem is the two candidates can’t agree who had it first.
The basic idea behind the “Pay It Forward” plan is that students would receive full assistance during their years in school from a state fund, then repay the amount they borrowed interest-free after entering the workforce.
The 13th district comprises some of the most college-educated communities in the country. That means students, former students and their parents make up a significant percentage of Democratic primary voters.
So, which candidate was the first to propose the plan?
It first became public on Wednesday, August 7th when Sen. Leach announced his “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” bill. This legislation would create a public fund that students would draw from in order to attend a state owned or affiliated school.
“Under the bill, qualifying students could use resources from the pool to fund their education,” according to Leach’s statement. “After graduating and joining the workforce, the students would repay the amount borrowed into the fund, interest free, using a small percentage – around 4 percent – of their monthly income.”
Then on August 11th, Rep. Boyle unveiled his own bill to create a commission to analyze the “Pay It Forward” model that would replace tuition at public colleges with a plan to collect portions of a graduate’s future earnings.
“With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent,” said Boyle. “This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.”
Leach was the first to make public the details of his proposal, in a July 18 co-sponsorship memo to his state Senate colleagues.
“I was surprised to read about Rep. Boyle’s bill. It seems to be the same bill, they even have the same name,” Leach said. “But you know they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Boyle campaign coordinator* Ann Mathew said his legislative staff had been working on the proposal for months.
“Rep Boyle and his staff have been working on this ‘Pay It Forward’ proposal since June. They also first contacted the Legislative Reference Bureau in early July, before anything from Daylin,” said Mathew. “Nonetheless, we welcome Sen. Leach’s new interest in this topic.”
Boyle announced the plan 4 days after Leach, and did so on Sunday – an unusual day for a lawmaker to announce legislation. Boyle sent around his co-sponsorship memo today, Monday.
Leach’s proposal would implement the program immediately and pay for it with a tax on natural gas extraction in the state. Mathew noted that such a requirement would make it difficult to pass through the state’s Republican legislature, thus making Leach’s proposal significantly less feasible.
The commission created by Boyle’s plan would recommend what the program should cost, how to fund it, and possibly set up some pilot programs to test its feasibility. A Leach spokesman characterized the commission as lackluster compared to Leach’s relatively more concrete proposal.
While Leach beat Boyle to the punch on introducing a bill, both have advocated higher education funding since they took office in 2009. And both candidates cited the same 2012 study from the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle as their inspiration.
The bills aren’t technically in competition. In a normal legislative setting (i.e. if the prime sponsors weren’t campaigning against each other), both chambers would look to reconcile the two proposals.
This episode is just the latest illustration of how contentious and close the crowded the Democratic primary may be next spring. In addition to Boyle and Leach, former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies and physician and healthcare activist Valerie Arkoosh are also running in the Democratic primary.
Keegan Gibson contributed to this report.
*An earlier version of this report listed Ann Mathew’s title as campaign manager. Her title is and has been campaign coordinator.