SACO – Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) said a bill he cosponsored has passed the House and Senate unanimously and awaits Gov. Paul LePage’s signature.
If signed into law, Chenette said the legislation, which is supported by the Legislature’s youth caucus, would expand the Opportunity Maine program. The program gives educational tax credits to Maine students who attend an out-of-state New England college if they return to Maine for their post-graduate careers. Currently, the tax credits are only available to Maine students that graduate from a state college or university.
LD 1421, “An Act to Permit a Student Holding a Degree from a Non-Maine Institution to Participate in the Job Creation Through Educational Opportunity Program,” sponsored by Rep. Catherine Nadeau (D-Benton, Winslow), is the third education reform bill to come out of the youth caucus, which consists of the 13 legislators who are under the age of 30. Chenette, age 22, is the youngest legislator.
“We have a really good record in the youth caucus on working on educational reform,” Chenette said. “It seems to be the issue that’s nonpartisan.”
As the law now stands, students who graduate from a Maine school and remain in the state to work can claim up to a $4,272 reduction each year in what they owe for state taxes. If Gov. Paul LePage signs LD 1421, the tax credit will be expanded to also apply to Maine students who participate in the New England Regional Student Program. Administered by the New England Board of Higher Education, the New England Regional Student Program gives students a discount on their out-of-state tuition rates if they enroll at a New England school for a major that is not available in their home state.
“(Currently, there is) an incentive to go to college out of state, but no incentive to come back to Maine,” Chenette said.
Jim Quentin, a Thornton Academy graduate who is now a senior at the University of New Hampshire, said a tax break could be a deciding factor between students launching their post-graduate careers in Maine or another state.
“The potential of tax credits or other incentives would be one more thing to entice me to come back to Maine,” Quentin said. “It wouldn’t hurt.”
Quentin said some of his high school friends had to go to college out-of-state because no schools in Maine had the major they were seeking.
“(Expanding Opportunity Maine) gives high school graduates a better opportunity to go learn whatever it is they want to learn,” Quentin said. “UMaine does a pretty good job of offering a wide range of programs, but they don’t offer everything. If you can go somewhere else and learn what you want to learn and come back to the state, it benefits the state.”
Chenette said, “It’s really a small change, but it will have a big impact. (Student debt) is a big problem with my peer group. It makes sense to provide this incentive.”
Although the bill is attached with a fiscal note – a factor that might cause the governor to pull out the veto pen – Chenette said there are resources within the Opportunity Maine program to fund it because the program is underutilized.
According to Maine Revenue Services, in 2012, the credit was given to 1,157 students – an increase of 710 from the year before.
The fiscal note attached to the bill indicates that if the program expansion is signed into law, it could cost the state $90,250 in fiscal year 2015-16, and $137,750 in 2016-17.