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The Price is Right?

Damian Christie - Cracker With Attitude | Jul 22, 2005 10:35

AM I GOING through The Change, or did someone turn up the heat on this non-election campaign?

National's acting like the miller from Rumplestiltskin, bragging Don has the ability to spin straw into gold. Tax cuts for every New Zealander AND more money on just about everything.

And yesterday it was time to bribe those with student loans.

Like everyone who started university the same year I did, I remember National's 1990 campaign promise that it would abolish fees. Well, it did, kind of. By bulk funding universities and leaving it up to them to impose fees for any shortfall, National's sleight of policy would have impressed even David Blaine. Twaah.

The student loan scheme was introduced in my first year of university, and like drunken Otago scarfies to the wintry Leith River, we took to it with much gusto. Cars, stereos and ski holidays were charged to Uncle Jim - one friend even had the receipts to prove he had spent his entire year's loan on alcohol. [RIP Brett: We miss ya buddy.]

Long story short, a few years later, a few letters after my name, and I owe around $55,000. A good amount I reckon. It's too big for me to consider pecking away at it with voluntary repayments, but it's not so big that I sob myself to sleep every night. The way I look at it, even if I lose my job, the Government's not going to come around and repossess my new fuzzy hippo slippers.

Even so, a $55k albatross is still one helluva hunka marine seabird to have hanging around your neck. What did scare me a little was the fact that even when I was working, earning vaguely-okay money, paying ten cents for every dollar over the loan threshold, my loan kept inching up. And I'm not alone. Only this year has my income crept up enough to see my loan start to decrease, albeit very very slowly.

So what to do about it? Early into the scheme there was talk - from Jim Anderton if I remember rightly - of writing off the student loans, or at least the portion students were willing to swear an oath went on actual university education, rather than, say, tinnies. But as the debt hit the several billion dollar mark, and the untrustworthiness of students vis-à-vis swearing an oath was proven in peer-reviewed research, it became clear my loan wasn't going anywhere.

Tax rebates have always made sense to me, although I've had the nagging feeling they wouldn't work for some economic reason. I think there's the concern that shrewd rich parents will use their children's student loans, invest them, claim the tax rebate and somehow profit from the whole deal.

Truth be told, you could already profit from the student loan scheme, by investing in property. It would only take a small group of committed students with a couple years' worth of loans to become serious slumlords anywhere outside of Auckland. Even if you couldn't get enough students together to pay cash, IRD's handy write-offs would ensure an interest-free mortgage, at least for as long as they're studying. Um... I think, better check that with an accountant first.

By making only the interest tax deductible, as National are proposing, I end up being about $30 a week better off. If there's tax relief on the way too, as they're suggesting, I could be a few thousand dollars richer each year. At least that's what the American who keeps calling tells me.

Will I sell New Zealand to the Tories for a few grand? Maybe, maybe not. But you can be damn sure a lot of people will.

THE ONLY FUNNY thing to come out of the second London bombing… On National Radio this morning, a young bystander sounding exactly like a real-life Ali G:

Yeah, so I saw the guy din'I, and he took off down the road, right? An'I would've taken off after him, in'it, except I got my heavy record bags - cos I'm a DJ, right…

Have a good weekend. In'it. And gaming fans might be interested to note I've got a new monthly column in the styley new M2 Magazine, out on Monday. Check it.

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