For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - Governor Paul LePage has signed into law a bill that will provide significant economic support for Maine students who graduate with degrees in so-called STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The bill, LD 835, strengthens an existing program, Opportunity Maine. It provides a refundable tax credit of up to $40,000 for students who graduate from a Maine community college or university in one of those subjects and stay in Maine to work.
The traditional Opportunity Maine program, established in 2008, provides a tax credit for all graduates of Maine colleges who are employed in the state. A refundable credit enhances that benefit, enabling a graduate to receive a refund from the state if the credit claimed exceeds the amount owed in taxes. In both cases, an individual can claim the tax credit only with respect to loans that are part of a financial aid package.
"We hope to encourage students to major in STEM areas by extending some economic assistance after graduation to help address Maine's skills gap," said State Rep. Dennis Keschl (R-Belgrade). "Students graduate from college these days with enormous debt and then have trouble finding jobs. As we work to encourage businesses to move to Maine, it's critical that we have a skilled workforce. This adds an incentive for our well-educated young people to stay in Maine."
It was an amendment by Rep. Keschl that added the provisions for STEM graduates. Under the original bill, sponsored by State Rep. Gary Knight (R-Livermore Falls), all Mainers qualifying for the program, regardless of their field of study, would have been eligible for a refundable tax credit. That option was judged too costly. The Legislature did tack on another amendment, by State Rep. Doug Damon (R-Bangor), which expands the Opportunity Maine program to Maine residents serving in the military outside the state who otherwise meet all the requirements.
The new statute also expands Opportunity Maine benefits to students who transfer from out-of-state schools to Maine community colleges, colleges or universities, provided they have not accumulated more than 30 credit hours at a non-Maine school.
Moreover, the new law allows an employer to claim the credit if a qualified employee meets all the eligibility criteria, except that his or her degree was awarded by a school outside of Maine. "This provision will benefit both employer and employee, because the employer would be paying off the student loan to qualify for the credit," said Rep. Keschl.
LD 835 passed the Legislature in March with overwhelming bipartisan support. Due to the cost involved, estimated to be $715,000 in fiscal year 2014, it was placed on the Special Appropriations Table until passage of the latest supplemental budget. It came off the table and was finally approved on May 16. ###
Maine House Republicans
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