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SAVE SOME DOUGH - Sign up for Opportunity Maine

If you're a student at a Maine college or university (public or private), you can sign up starting tomorrow to make yourself eligible for an income-tax break if you live and work in Maine after you graduate.

The program is called Opportunity Maine, and we've written about it before (see "Young and Dumb," by Al Diamon, March 7, 2007, and "Opportunity Maine - Missing the Target?" by Emily Parkhurst, April 4, 2007).

It's the law now, so give it a shot. Be careful of the fine print - even some of the regular-sized print in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section gets kind of complicated.

There are a few limits. Grad students need not apply - folks getting associate's or bachelor's degrees only.

The tax credit is based on tuition at UMaine or the state's community college system, so if you take out loans for a more-expensive college, you only get the credit for what you would have paid at a state school. (Of course, if you're attending Bowdoin or Colby, you won't have any loans, thanks to those colleges' largesse.)

And the program only helps people who graduate from Maine colleges, regardless of where they grew up. There's nothing for people who grew up in Maine, went to school elsewhere, and then came back. Nor is there anything in this law (touted as keeping young people in Maine) that would actually attract young people from elsewhere to move here, such as a tax break for anyone in the 18-35 age bracket.

But the group's major point is right on: students at Maine colleges and universities have nothing to lose by signing up at their schools' financial-aid offices. If you leave Maine after college, you won't get the tax credit, but there's no tax penalty. And if you ever move back, you can get the credit again.

It may not solve all of Maine's problems, or even any, but it's an interesting experiment and it can't hurt you to try.

(And yes, we know that longtime Portland Phoenix freelancer Tony Giampetruzzi is the communications director for Opportunity Maine. We're hoping he'll leave us alone about this for a week or two, at least!)

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