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In Maine, Gore Pushes College Tax Credit Plan


LEWISTON, Maine — In a community where the high school sends not quite half its students to post-secondary education, Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday advocated a plan that would cut taxes to make it easier to pay for college and other higher education.

His schedule dictated more by the proximity of dollars than votes in the sparsely populated far Northeast, the vice president is putting in nearly two days trying to nail down a handful of electoral votes during the day and building his party's bank account by night.

Wednesday saw the Democratic nominee in a setting unlikely at this late stage of the presidential campaign: a high school in a state with only four electoral votes.

The reason: He wanted to be near Boston, where he attended a fund-raising concert headlined by James Taylor, during the evening. That event, plus fund-raisers Tuesday in Camden, N.J., and tonight in New York, were expected to bring the Democratic National Committee $8 million.

Meanwhile, polls continued to bring good news to the Gore camp.

The Reuters/Zogby poll, made public Wednesday, showed Gore leading Bush, 46% to 39%, among likely voters. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had 4% and Pat Buchanan, of the Reform Party, scored 1%.

The poll was the first by Reuters/Zogby that placed Gore's lead outside the margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

In his talk at Lewiston High School to perhaps 100 parents, teachers and students in the school library, Gore presented his plan to make it easier for parents and students to pay tuition for college or other job skills education.

Under the plan Gore has made a centerpiece of his education proposals, families could choose between a tax deduction and a 28% tax credit on up to $10,000 in tuition each year.

He has also proposed establishing national college tuition savings accounts that would work like IRAs.

Lewiston is a long-struggling community. The textile mills and shoe factories, once a steady source of jobs for young people finishing high school, have shut down. The shifting economy has led many to consider post-secondary education to be evermore necessary.

The number of Lewiston seniors entering college and other post-high school education increased from 45% in 1990 to 48% in 2000.

Nationally, 65.6% of U.S. high school graduates enrolled in college within 12 months of graduation in 1998, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Gore's proposals drew a generally favorable response from his audience. But some parents were looking for additional help--whether in cuts in the capital gains tax, which Gore said he generally opposes, or in a boost in the amount of tuition that could be figured in the tax break.

"A $10,000 deduction is a good start," said one participant in the program, but "it doesn't go far here in the Northeast," where the public university system is more limited than in some Midwestern and Western states and the cost of sending a student to private college for one year can top $30,000.

The vice president responded that a fair national program could not be geared to "the schools with the highest tuition."

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