Chemical industry says tax overhaul will be fairer, but science groups warn that it will harm research

The US chemical industry has applauded the passage of the massive Republican tax reform through the House of Representatives yesterday. However, dozens of scientific organisations, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), have voiced their opposition to it.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) – the industry trade association for US chemical firms – said the bill will help modernise the tax system to create ‘a fair, simpler and internationally competitive system’ that stimulates economic growth and creates new jobs.

‘Business tax reform needs to recognise the importance of American manufacturing and the jobs it creates,’ said the ACC. The trade group expressed support for a ‘substantial rate reduction’ to levels comparable to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) averages, noting that US tax reform must produce a more level playing field for US and foreign companies when they invest at home or abroad.

Meanwhile, the American Chemical Society (ACS) joined dozens of other scientific groups and academic research organisations to publicly oppose the measure. The ACS argued that the House bill would eliminate beneficial tax provisions for graduate education and would disproportionately affect graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem). The society also pointed out that 60% of graduate students in the US are pursuing degrees in Stem disciplines, and warned that the proposed repeals would likely lead a significant number of Stem students to forego their graduate education, undermining the US innovation pipeline.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and 44 other scientific and engineering societies wrote to House leaders in the hope of convincing them to drop these provisions from the tax bill. ‘Repealing the very provisions that allow graduate students to continue to study in critical Stem fields means that we will be shutting the door on new opportunities for discovery, exploration and innovation,’ the letter cautioned.

The legislation will still have to be brought in line with the Senate version of the bill, which is currently under consideration. If things go smoothly, the full Senate could vote on it shortly after 23 November.

The Association of American Universities pointed out that the Senate’s tax proposal retains many of the student tax benefits the House plans to eliminate. However, the group’s president, Mary Sue Coleman, said it still places too much of the burden on the US’s non-profit universities by, among other things, eliminating the state and local tax deduction. She said this would only serve to further discourage state investment in public colleges and universities, harming the ability of these institutions to fulfil their educational, research and public service missions.