AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine’s top two legislative leaders announced a step Monday toward reversing an exodus of youths from Maine, a trend that has long been seen as a threat to the state’s economy.

Senate President Beverly Daggett and House Speaker Patrick Colwell said they are appointing a 13-member task force to come up with ways to keep graduating seniors from leaving the state.

The 1980s and ’90s saw a net out-migration of Mainers between the ages of 20 and 29, Daggett said.

Both Daggett and Colwell, D-Gardiner, said the “brain drain” if allowed to continue will have a lasting, negative effect on the state’s economy.

“We know what the problem is,” said Colwell, noting that the state’s history of youths’ out-migration dates to the 19th century. “It will be the job of the task force to offer perspective and solutions.”

Colwell said lawmakers have already looked at some potential solutions, such as college loan forgiveness for graduates who remain in Maine. Other ideas revolve around the state university system, the focal point of research and development efforts.

Gov. John Baldacci mentioned the youth exodus as a major concern in his inaugural speech last January and later told an advisory panel of youths that he’s committed to keeping young Mainers from having to leave because of a lack of good jobs.

The legislative task force will get help from the state university and community college systems as well as other interested groups and will present its recommendations to the Legislature prior to the opening of the 2004 session.

It is one of numerous task forces studying a variety of state issues.

Baldacci’s office alone has appointed at least a half dozen others dealing with such topics as Maine’s dairy and aquaculture industries, the state’s economy, education, natural resources and all-terrain vehicles.

AP-ES-07-21-03 1534EDT

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