Thursday, May 24, 2007

Opportunity Maine

I'm writing this post from the Maine Statehouse in Augusta on a particularly beautiful day. The students and citizens who are part of Opportunity Maine invited me up here to testify before the Taxation Committee.

OppME is a ballot initiative that would provide a tax credit in the full amount of their student loan payments to graduates of Maine colleges for each year they stay in the state. Employers could also assume the loan payments and claim the credits on their own taxes. The measure is projected to start paying for itself within six years due to the higher earnings of more educated people staying in the state.

I met Andrew Bossie, the outgoing student body president of the University of Southern Maine and the president of this effort, last fall when I spoke at U Maine-Orono. In order to get this done, it took the work of experienced activists, community organizers, and communications people, not to mention hundreds of student volunteers. I want to see the federal student loan system reformed wholesale, but I can also see the real benefits of measures like these to enhance economic development and peoples' ability to stay in the places where they grew up.

Maine is one of the oldest states and somewhat less educated than average, so they have a serious incentive to enhance the qualifications of their workforce. This bill has gotten lots of support from both sides of the aisle, not to mention the 73,000 signatures that Opp ME volunteers collected in a record time over the winter. If it doesn't pass outright now, it will go before the citizens next fall--and I'll be back to find out how they're doing.

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