It’s Republican legislators, not Gov. LePage, who are blocking student debt relief

It’s Republican legislators, not Gov. LePage, who are blocking student debt relief

As we approach the end of a legislative session marked by some of the most intractable partisan conflict in our state’s history, a curious partnership has emerged in Augusta over an issue that has come to define the struggle of thousands of young Mainers: the specter of student debt.

State Senate assistant majority leader, Nate Libby (D-Lewiston), has introduced a bill aimed at keeping college graduates from being pushed out of the state to chase the higher paying jobs needed to cover the rapidly growing costs of attending college. The bill, initially calling for a bond of $250 million before being pared down to $40 million in negotiations, would assist Mainers pay down their college debt so long as they live and work in the state for five years upon their graduation. The current bill would also allow recent graduates from away utilize the program as long as they met that five year residency requirement.

While Libby’s bill has stalled in the Legislature, where House and Senate Republicans have begun to throw up roadblocks to the legislation’s passage, the measure has found vocal support from none other than Governor LePage, who has begun to publicly call for the passage of Libby’s bill.

LePage, who endorsed bonding $100 million for the measure, pointed out— rightly— that if Maine does not take proactive steps to shift the demographic winds that are blowing, then we face the very real prospect of a crippling labor shortage. More than simply keeping young Mainers from fleeing the state to greener economic pastures, the state needs to attract new workers and families in order to avert a cascading population crisis.

Despite unanimous Democratic support and LePage’s backing, Legislative Republicans fresh off the heels of shutting down state government in one of the most stark displays of political nihilism in Maine history, have enough votes to deny the bond the two-thirds support needed to pass the proposal on to voters for referendum. LePage himself incredulously pointed out that legislative Republicans have no alternative plan to halting our workforce crisis, and yet the bill has so far fallen to roughly party line votes in both the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate.

Although Maine is the oldest state in the union, Maine students are some of the most indebted in the country. The Maine Center for Economic Policy has pointed out that every dollar spent servicing student loan debt is money that is not being invested in opening a business, buying a house, or starting a family, and with an average debt burden of nearly $30,000, Maine graduates are being priced out of remaining in the communities in which they were raised. The numbers just don’t work. And so Maine has been bleeding graduates for years.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Governments have the power to invest in industries that they believe are vital to the health of the state; we see it every day in a municipality that provides a property tax credit to an expanding business to encourage it to grow and create more jobs, or in a state government that provides emergency financing to a struggling industry in need of capital to remain stable. Likewise, we have the power to invest in workers themselves, who are ultimately our most valuable and increasingly scarce resource.

State Democrats and Governor LePage (!) have recognized that they have the power and responsibility to act, because the time to do so is running out. What’s your Republican legislator waiting for?

Feel free to call them to find out.

Photo of House Minority Leader Ken Fredette via Andi Parkinson.

 

About author

Grady Burns
Grady Burns 44 posts

Grady Burns is an activist on issues involving young Mainers. He serves on the Auburn City Council and is president of the Maine Young Democrats.

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