Monday, February 26, 2007

Opportunity Maine Successful in Signature Gathering Effort

The student-led initiative to make higher education more affordable in Maine
may now go to voters.

AUGUSTA — Leaders of Opportunity Maine PAC announced today that they have more than enough signatures to put a question before Maine voters that would make college more affordable for Mainers.

If the initiative passes, any person who graduates from a Maine college or university - and then lives and works in Maine afterwards - would be eligible for a tax credit to help pay back their student loans.

“This is an exciting day for all of us who have worked for over a year to make college more affordable, to create job opportunities throughout the state, and to grow the economy,” said Andrew Bossie, the president of Opportunity Maine PAC and the student body president at USM.

“We know that a lot of people need to leave Maine after they graduate because they can’t afford to pay their student loans. Opportunity Maine will lighten that burden, making Maine a more attractive place to live and find a job.”

Bossie added that Opportunity Maine will also help those who need re-education or who have lost jobs. And, Opportunity Maine also gives businesses the option of paying the student loan payments for their eligible employees and taking the tax credit for themselves.

Opportunity Maine launched its signature gathering effort in late September with an ambitious goal. A vast network of student and community volunteers collected more than 70,000 signatures — more than enough to put a question before voters — that were delivered to the State House for verification in January.

The Secretary of State announced today that 63,285 signatures are valid making Opportunity Maine’s signature gathering effort an unprecedented grassroots success – only 55,087 were needed to put question to voters. Under Maine law, the Maine legislature now has the option to pass the legislation outright, or send the question to voters in November.

“Of course we’d be delighted if the Legislature decides to approve this measure, but we’re prepared to continue to educate Maine voters,” said Dory Waxman, an Opportunity Maine field organizer.

“From the very beginning, Opportunity Maine wanted to educate Mainers about the importance of making higher education more affordable so people can get jobs in Maine,” said Waxman. “Well, we’ve already had over 70,000 face-to-face conversations with people who think this is an important effort, and our next step will be to speak to as many people as possible about the link between education and good-paying jobs.”

Currently, Maine has 30% fewer degree-holders than the rest of New England, and Maine’s average incomes are 30% less than the rest of New England. At the same time, the burden of student debt has skyrocketed in recent years, leading to crippling, life-long debt or a real or perceived inability to pursue higher education.

Already, Opportunity Maine has been endorsed by labor and business councils across the state as well as the University of Maine System.

Tony Giampetruzzi, Opportunity Maine’s Communications Director, said the Opportunity Maine effort is an excellent example of how ordinary people can affect positive and sweeping change.

“In addition to starting an important discussion about education and jobs, Opportunity Maine invigorated traditional and non-traditional students throughout the state. People at every Maine campus were involved in the signature gathering process, a commitment that shows that a more affordable education and a sustainable economy are of great concern,” said Giampetruzzi.

“72,000 conversations in just over three months illuminated those needs by starting a larger conversation about how people can live and work in Maine if that’s what they want to do.”

Unless the Maine legislature passes the Opportunity Maine measure, a question will go before voters in November: “Do you want to allow a tax credit for college loan repayment to any taxpayer who earns a future college degree in Maine and continues to live and work in Maine?”

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