Investments in Maine students and workers play second fiddle to tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations in Governor Paul LePage’s proposed $6.5 million state budget.

Lawmakers heard strong concerns from students, teachers, and experts about the lack of investment in public higher education on Monday morning during a joint hearing of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Education and Cultural Affairs committees.

“State investments in our public higher education facilities is vital to improving our economy. It is key to creating more jobs and better wages for our students and our workers,” said Rep. Tori Kornfield of Bangor, the House Chair of the Education committee. “Instead the Governor is prioritizing tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations over much-needed investment in education. We need to attract and keep young students in Maine, and we can do that by investing in education.”

Governor LePage’s budget flat funds the state’s community colleges and provides the state’s university system with only half of its requested expenditures, while slashing the corporate income tax rate by nearly $60 million over the next four years.

“Investing in higher education is a top priority for building a skilled and prepared workforce, growing our economy toward prosperity, and to strengthening our future,” said Senator Linda Valentino of Saco, who serves on the Appropriations Committee. “There’s never justification for giving tax breaks to big corporations ahead of helping Maine students and Maine people find their way to college and degree attainment.”

During the hearing, Interim Maine Community College System President Derek Langhauser told lawmakers the system will have to find up to $10 million in cuts over the next two years or raise tuition to cover cost increases.

“Our goal must be to make college more affordable, especially at our community colleges which provide such a bang for the buck for both students and workers,” said Rep. Matthea Daughtry of Brunswick, who chaired the Legislature’s College Affordability Task Force and serves on the Education committee.

Jason Glyan, a former community college student, told lawmakers the community college system changed his life, allowing him to go back to school and get the training he needed to get a good-paying job. He called the community college system “the great bargain of higher education.”

“We heard powerful personal testimony from students, workers, and education officials. The message was clear: don’t shortchange education,” said Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, who serves on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “Unfortunately Maine is providing the same grant amount to students today that it did back in 1994 and we know our dollars don’t stretch as far as they did 20 years ago.”

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