AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage is still pushing to win Republican support for a student debt relief plan that failed last week to secure enough GOP votes to reach his desk.

LePage said that offering young people help with paying off student loans is one way to get them to move to Maine, something he insists is one of the state’s biggest problems.

The chief sponsor of the proposed $40 million bond package to provide funding for a student debt program, Democratic Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston, said recently that the proposal is “down but not out.”

He said there’s still time “to turn some votes around in the House and Senate” before the Aug. 2 veto session where a renewed effort to pass the plan is possible.

Libby and LePage are going to need to switch quite a few votes, though, given the need to reach a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. In the first round last week, just five Republicans backed the proposal.

The problem, LePage told WGAN radio in Portland on Thursday is that lawmakers are “so narrow and so simple” that they can’t see the long-range problem facing the state. They won’t look further than the next election, the governor griped.


LePage said that Maine’s median age, already the oldest in the country, keeps moving in the wrong direction.

It’s at 44 years and 7 months now, LePage said, two months older than the median a year ago.

“That is devastating,” the governor said.

He said officials need to find ways to lure young people to Maine if they’re ever going to fill the many jobs going unfilled across the state.

Since Maine wages are generally lower than in other states, LePage said lending a hand with paying off student loans is one way to convince some to give the state a chance.

Student loan debt is a growing burden on many families and recent graduates.


The Finance Authority of Maine, which would oversee Libby’s proposed program, said Maine students have $29,644 in outstanding debt, on average.

“An entire generation of Mainers and Americans is already seeing their dreams and their futures put on hold because of crushing student debt and our economy is weaker because of it,” the state Democrats said in a note Thursday urging the party’s rank-and-file to press legislators to pass Libby’s bill.

Libby said the plan would offer Maine residents who are working and commit to stay in Maine for five years enough money to pay about 15 percent of their annual debt load, with a $25,000 maximum benefit. Both federal and private loans would be eligible, he said.

The money could go to the former students or to their employers, giving companies another tool for recruiting good workers, supporters said.

“Maine’s student debt crisis isn’t a Republican or a Democratic problem,” the Democrats said. “It’s a problem for all Maine families who can’t buy a home, open a new business or start their families because there isn’t enough money left in the bank after paying hundreds of dollars to out-of-state loan servicers every month.”

LePage said it’s important for graduates to grow their net worth rather than their debts.


He said if he can get them to come to Maine for five years, many will wind up staying, especially if they meet someone and start a family.

It might help sway Mainers who leave the state for schooling to return home when they’re done.

“If they never come back, you have no shot,” LePage said.

With businesses posting help wanted signs across Maine, the governor said, the state has to act.

“We don’t have a working-age labor force in Maine,” LePage said.

Maine Sen. Nate Libby

Maine Sen. Nate Libby

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