Free will cost state taxpayers

March 7, 2014 

The pay-it-forward interest-free loan concept has caught the fancy of many state lawmakers, including in Illinois. It's a feel-good, utopian-sounding idea -- which should be enough to make lawmakers run the other way.

But of course, they aren't. The Illinois House just unanimously passed a bill, co-sponsored by metro-east Rep. Jay Hoffman, to study the feasibility. It now moves to the Senate.

You don't need a study to know that such a program would be free for the students but not the taxpayers.

The basic idea is that college students get interest-free loans to pay for community college or a state university; in exchange they would agree to repay a percentage of their income over 20 or 25 years.

How is the state that can't pay its own bills going to afford fronting the money for the program? How would it pay the costs of administering it? And who's going to get stuck with the tuition bill if a graduate is unemployed or a deadbeat?

Yale University tried a program like this in the 1970s and it was a disaster. Many participants defaulted, many higher earners wanted out early and the university ended up picking up a significant portion of the costs.

Let's hope senators look at this with a more critical eye than House members did. Even people who think this is a good idea should realize that this is the wrong time for Illinois to be starting any costly programs.

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