ORONO — Gov. Paul LePage shared two ideas for programs he said would reduce student debt and would encourage graduates to stay in Maine during a campaign stop at the University of Maine on Monday afternoon.
Under one idea the governor spoke about, companies that employ Maine graduates would be given the option of buying their employees’ student debt in exchange for a tax break.
Although he said the plan is “in its infancy” and that the details were not fleshed out, LePage said it would be a way to get students’ loans paid off quickly and to “keep young people in Maine.”
UMaine sophomore Lauren Lugdon, 19, said she was excited about the plan.
“I’ll come out, personally, with thousands (of dollars) in debt,” she said. “I think it will be a good incentive to stay in Maine.”
The other plan, which LePage also did not elaborate on, would provide scholarships to Maine students who study science, technology, engineering or math.
The Republican governor, who is in the midst of a campaign for re-election, spoke on the steps of UMaine’s Fogler Library with a group of about 20 students standing behind him, wearing LePage stickers and holding signs. There were few other attendees, other than a cluster of reporters, partly because it was Columbus Day and the campus was almost empty.
Recent polls show the governor is in a close race against his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, with independent candidate Eliot Cutler coming in a relatively distant third.
The state’s economy and diminishing job prospects — particularly after a third mill announced two weeks ago it would close by the end of the year — have been recurring topics during the campaign. On Monday, LePage laid the blame for the mill closures squarely on Michaud and the Democratic Party.
“Mike Michaud voted to delay expanding natural gas to New England,” he said, referring to Michaud’s vote against a bill that “aims to expedite the federal review process for natural gas pipeline permit applications,” according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee website.
In a letter responding to the governor’s objection to his vote, Michaud wrote he shared the goal of expanding New England’s natural gas infrastructure but said he did not approve of the “arbitrary deadlines” set forth in the bill.
Michaud argued the process the federal government uses to determine when a company can acquire private land for the construction of a pipeline against the landowner’s will is important and should not be subject to those deadlines.
The legislation “would disrupt the system by requiring [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] to approve or deny all natural gas pipeline applications, regardless of size or complexity, within one year, and require all relevant agencies to approve or deny related permits within 90 days,” Michaud wrote. “If FERC or another agency fails to issue their decisions within the allotted timeframes the application or permits would be automatically approved.”
UMaine junior Lee Jackson, also a member of the Regional School Unit 34 school board, introduced the governor at the event Monday, calling him a friend and mentor.
“He is the governor that is fighting to restart Maine,” the 20-year-old said of LePage.
After the event, Jackson said he could relate to LePage because he worked his way through school and into a successful career.
“He understands our struggle because he’s lived through that life,” he said, who added the students at the event came from Husson University and the University of Maine at Presque Isle, as well as UMaine. All the attendees were men except one woman.
Jackson was elected last year to the school board, which serves the nearby community of Old Town.