June 7, 2017
By Scott Thistle
AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted 26-9 Wednesday to override a Gov. Paul LePage veto of a bill that would force him to issue $15 million in voter-approved bonds earmarked to build affordable housing for senior citizens.
The bill, L.D. 832, is sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who says it’s needed because LePage has abused a portion of state law that requires his signature before bonds are issued.
LePage and the Legislature wrangled over the release of $5 million in land conservation bonds in 2015.
“This is simply a ministerial function, not a discretionary one,” Katz has said. LePage has said he won’t issue the bonds because he believes they are intended to make one or two individuals millionaires overnight, although he has never fully explained what he meant.
“Gov. LePage either believes that the people of Maine are incapable of understanding a straightforward bond referendum question, or simply does not respect their will when it differs from his own,” said Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. “Either way, his contempt for the voters of our state and callous disregard for the desperate housing needs of our seniors is outrageous.”
A message to LePage’s office seeking comment was not returned.
The House of Representatives will also vote on whether to override the veto, likely on Thursday. The House voted to pass the bill but with 85 votes in favor, the margin fell 16 votes short of the two-thirds needed to override. If the bonds are issued, work could begin on senior housing projects during the current construction season, according to Jess Maurer, the co-chair of the Maine Council on Aging.
“There are towns and cities in every part of Maine that are poised to submit proposals to develop affordable housing options that will keep seniors in their communities,” Maurer said.
The $15 million bond would be used in combination with more than $22 million in matching funds from other sources to build energy-efficient homes for the elderly, Payne said. The funding also pays for repairs and weatherization for more than 100 existing homes already occupied by elderly Maine residents, he said.