Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Rep. Gay Grant
While campaigning door-to-door last year, I spoke with a hardworking member of my community.
He said he felt hopeless about the future of Maine, and he doubted he could regain the life he and his wife knew before the Great Recession. He could not imagine they would be able to retire. They were making ends meet by piecing together part-time jobs, and neither of them had health care coverage.
At that time, I could tell him only that I would remember his words and work hard to effect the kind of change that would help restore his hope for a better future. His story continues to serve as a reminder of one of the top priorities I have as a legislator.
I learned a great deal in my first session, but found that one truth still stands: Education and training are the keys to opportunity.
We focus a great deal on educating our youth, as we should. We also must consider our incumbent workforce, however, people like the man I spoke to whose skills need to be updated for him to remain competitive in today's marketplace.
These workers need opportunities to develop new skills and build upon the strengths and experiences they have so they can thrive in today's economy.
By building a well-educated, well-trained and resilient workforce, we can grow our economy and middle class. For adults, the key is resiliency, the ability to adapt and learn new skills so they can overcome challenges, identify new opportunities and thrive in new jobs.
As a member of the Joint Select Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future, I have learned that Mainers do have reason to be hopeful. The committee is tasked with developing legislation to strengthen our economy and help create new opportunities for Maine workers.
Over several months, the committee heard from large companies ready to expand, small businesses with a solid niche in the global market and entrepreneurs capitalizing on innovative ideas. We listened to members of forward-thinking communities that are investing in their downtowns and finding new uses for old buildings. A new energy is beginning to spread across the state.
The committee developed a bipartisan, comprehensive bill to spur investments in workforce training and education. One component of this bill will provide funds that will help more than 1,500 workers update their skills and education.
This legislation also includes targeted support for our community college system to help reduce waiting lists for programs that lead to high-paying jobs.
The provisions of this bill were included in the budget that Gov. Paul LePage vetoed, but the Legislature was able to forge a compromise and override his veto.
Student debt in Maine is the third-highest in the nation. Removing this barrier to living and working in Maine is critically important.
The Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, more commonly known as Opportunity Maine, was established in 2007 to reduce student debt for Maine students by providing graduates who stay in Maine to work with a tax credit for student loan payments.
It was hoped this program would help stem the tide of college graduates leaving the state. Unfortunately, only about 600 Mainers have taken advantage of this opportunity.
For this reason, I drafted legislation to promote and expand awareness of the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit. This new law will help raise awareness of the Opportunity Maine program so that more Mainers will take advantage of the tax credit for which they are eligible. The average benefit is more than $2,000 per year. This credit could effectively wipe out student loans incurred by adults who return to school to earn associate or bachelor's degrees.
Growing an educated and skilled workforce will help bring businesses and well-paying jobs to Maine. Attracting and keeping young people in Maine and helping our incumbent workers re-train for new opportunities are vital to our economic recovery.
Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, is serving her first term in the Maine Legislature. She represents Gardiner and Randolph and serves on the Joint Select Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future and the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.