AUGUSTA, Maine — An effort to force Gov. Paul LePage to issue a $15 million senior housing bond approved widely by voters in 2015 advanced in the Maine Legislature on Tuesday, but Republicans have enough support to block the bid for the second straight year.
The Maine House of Representatives initially voted 85-57 on Tuesday to issue that bond money. However, that was short of the two-thirds majority that proponents will need to override a likely veto from the Republican governor over a bill that opponents say would usurp his power.
LePage has five years to issue bonds under law and he has used that authority as political leverage, spending much of 2015 withholding conservation bonds. Last week, his compromise with State Treasurer Terry Hayes ended an impasse over bonding that threatened $600 million in transportation projects.
The senior housing bond was approved by 69 percent of Maine voters in 2015 and would be matched by $22.6 million in private and other funds to build more than 200 new senior housing units and weatherize more than 100 homes for low-income seniors.
The governor has given a variety of reasons for not issuing the bonds, ranging from impact on the state’s credit rating to that his desire to change the configuration of the bond package to include telemedicine services.
However, that’s holding up the expansion of senior housing, which has long been identified as a need in Maine, the nation’s oldest state, where a 2015 study from the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition said a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable units for low-income people age 55 and older may rise to 15,000 by 2022.
“Seniors are still waiting for the bonds to be issued and thus are still waiting for the help that they desperately need,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, on the House floor.
The bill to force the issuance is sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta and the Republican-led Senate initially passed the bill after a 24-8 vote against rejecting it. A similar proposal died last year in the Senate.
But just eight Republicans broke ranks to vote for it Tuesday in the House, showing that LePage has enough support there to sustain a veto. However, the bill faces further action in both chambers before it goes to LePage’s desk.
“It is the chief executive’s job to make sure that the administration of government is prudent and within the limits authorized,” said Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway. “This bill wrongly interferes with the chief executive’s power and the separation of powers between the Legislature and the executive.”