Can the Tax Code Keep Educated Residents from Leaving the State?

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This November Maine voters will have the opportunity (unless the Legislature acts first) to vote on a proposal that would provide tax cuts to assist college graduates as they pay back their student loans. If the initiative is approved, college students in Maine who stay and work in the state after graduation may claim a tax credit of about $2,100. Advocates of the proposal say that offering the tax credit will make education more affordable for students and also "raise the wage and skill levels of Maine's workforce." However, some important questions remain regarding how much the tax credits will cost, where the money to pay for the credits would come from, and whether or not offering a tax credit will really ensure that students stay in Maine.

In Iowa a similar proposal is focused on keeping college graduates in the state and slowing the state's "brain drain." The proposal allows businesses who repay new employees' student loan debt (up to $25,000) to receive tax credits of up to $7,500. In order to qualify for the credit, employers have to pay a minimum salary of $25,000 and start repaying the employee's loan within six months. The Des Moines Register's editorial board sharply critiques this proposal and raises good points about whether or not providing tax credits to businesses really is the best strategy for ensuring that college graduates stay or move into the state. Instead, the Register rightly suggests, "To reduce student loan debt, public money would be better used to hold down tuition costs at state universities, so students don't graduate with huge debt in the first place."

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