Consider two mildly mythical Maine citizens.
One was a Girl Scout, a church youth leader, and an all-state athlete. A highly motivated student, she became valedictorian of her high school class, graduated magna cum laude from one of the country’s most prestigious universities, and obtained an advanced degree from another world-renowned institution. Upon completing her studies, she had numerous job offers, but decided to return to her home state to pursue a career in medical research. In her spare time, she volunteers to teach underprivileged children, read to elderly shut-ins, and clean cages at the local animal shelter. She also serves on the town planning board, organizes the annual park clean-up, and runs at least two marathons a year.
The other student had a police record before he was 12. In high school, he earned marginal grades, developed a taste for drugs and alcohol, and fathered two children, neither of which he supports. He enrolled at the University of Somewhere in Maine, but only because his parents insisted he do so if he wanted to continue living in their basement. After six years, he accidentally earned a degree in feminist studies, the result of taking any class in which he was the only male student. Unable to find suitable employment, he spends his days selling pot and attempting — often unsuccessfully — to skim borrowed snowmobiles across partially frozen lakes. In his off hours, he enjoys spray-painting graffiti on public buildings.
These two people have only one thing in common. Due to the loans they took out to pay for their educations, they’re both burdened with substantial debt that won’t be paid off until they’re in their 50s.
This November, you may get a chance to help one of them.
It won’t be the do-gooder.
A group called Opportunity Maine has succeeded in collecting enough signatures to place an initiative on the ballot that would provide an income-tax credit of $2100 or more each year to offset college loan payments. This tax break would only be available to Maine residents who got their degrees from Maine schools. So, Miss World-Class Education wouldn’t qualify.
But Stoner Boy would.
If, that is, drug dealers paid income tax.
The goal of this ill-considered plan is to slow “brain drain,” which is not a term describing the effect of prolonged use of consciousness-altering chemicals on cognitive functions. It’s the urban myth that claims that, right after graduation, most Maine college grads hit the highway for Boston, New York, and beyond in search of improved employment opportunities and the chance to engage in social interactions that don’t involve Allen’s Coffee Brandy or bear baiting.
There are several things wrong with this referendum.
First, “brain drain” is more political polemic than problem. Studies by the University of Maine and the Finance Authority of Maine show over 50 percent of college graduates stay in the state and find decent jobs. Others return to Maine after a period of working or studying elsewhere. And if some of them split for good, so what? In the last decade, that loss has been more than offset by in-migrants, mostly middle-aged and retired people with plenty of disposable income and little inclination to start collecting signatures for a referendum to give themselves a special tax break.