AUGUSTA – A bill to expand the Maine Educational Opportunity Tax Credit earned the unanimous support of the Taxation Committee members present Tuesday.
Under the measure sponsored by Rep. Justin Chenette, Maine residents who go to college in other New England states because their course of study is not available in Maine would be eligible for the Maine Educational Opportunity Tax Credit.
“Many students who study elsewhere in New England want to return to Maine,” said Chenette, D-Saco. “By expanding this tax credit to them, we can ensure that more students return to our state to live and work.”
The Maine Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, also known as Opportunity Maine, offers reimbursement to college graduates or their employers for student loan payments. Under the current rules, the graduate must have completed an associate or bachelor’s degree in Maine and must work in the state.
The bill would expand the program to students who are pursuing or have pursued a course of study available only at a public institution outside of Maine as part of the tuition break program. Offered by the New England Board of Higher Education, enables thousands of New England residents to enroll at out-of-state New England public colleges and universities at a discount.
After graduating and entering the workforce, many college graduates pay a large portion of their income toward student loan payments. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average college graduate incurs more than $29,000 in student loan debt.
“For a state that desperately needs a youthful, well-educated and skilled workforce, it seems counterproductive to our state’s interests to continue the status quo,” Chenette said. “We are actually doing ourselves a major disservice and losing talented young minds to other states.”
The bill, LD 898, faces further votes before the House and Senate.
Chenette, a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Saco.