2018-02-08 / Editorial

Legislative Lowdown

What should we be doing about student loan debt?
by Rep. Martin Grohman

The numbers are shocking. Even if every high school student stays in Maine after graduation, our labor force will decline by 50,000 over the next 10 years. And that’s with a workforce that is already shrinking, dropping from a peak of about 710,000 five years ago and declining from there, due to retirements and a lack of immigration.

To keep our workforce vital and supply the workers that our growing employers in health care, payment systems, technology and many other industries need, we need to do more to attract college educated young people to Maine. Even though our state universities have done an admirable job keeping tuition down – remarkably, not increasing it for six years during the economic downturn – college is expensive. Many students graduate with high levels of student loan debt. That’s not just doctors. It’s also schoolteachers, speech therapists and dental hygienists. And even with a good job, it can be hard for a new professional to buy a home and settle down because of the debt load and high interest rates they have from obtaining their professional degree.

Fortunately, we have a program called the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit that helps students with debt. This is an excellent program, and if you are a recent college graduate or employ recent college graduates, you should apply for it, which you can do at liveandworkinmaine.com. However, some argue this credit is too complex, and does not take on the problem of high student loan interest rates.

One additional idea that is gaining support is a bond issue that would support zero interest student loans for college graduates who stay in the state to work after college. Students who move here could also qualify for a debt consolidation of their high interest out of state loans, as long as they live and work here for five years.

However, student debt relief does not have an immediate payoff. This would have to be viewed as a long-term investment, like building a bridge or investing in broadband internet infrastructure, for it to make sense.

Tell me what you think – is a program like this a good idea? No other state has a program like it. We would be the first. Would you vote for a bond issue that set up this kind of program? If not, why not, and what changes would you like to see? Send me a note at martin. grohman@legislature.maine.gov or call me at home at 283-1476 and let me know.

Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford is an Independent State Representative serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and is a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Outside the legislature, he hosts a podcast for Maine entrepreneurs called The Grow Maine Show and is chair of the Biddeford Solid Waste & Recycling Commission. Sign up for legislative updates at www.growmaine.com, facebook.com/repgrohman or call Marty at home at 283-1476.

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