Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday afternoon was still deciding whether to sign or veto a bill that would give residents 75 days to hold a referendum to overturn local land-use decisions, with a Friday deadline looming.

Crystal Canney, the governor’s spokesperson, said there was ongoing discussion about the bill, which passed 75 to 66 in the House and 21 to 12 in the Senate.

The governor has until Friday to make up his mind. If he takes no action by then the bill is dead through what’s known as a pocket veto.

Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-Cumberland County, who sponsored the bill to make it easier for developers to build affordable housing, said if the governor vetoes the bill or lets it die, it is a loss for a good cause.

“What will be sad is if…they really did convince everybody that this is about Wal-Mart or usurping public control,” Bromley said of the bill’s opponents.

Under the proposal, residents would have 75 days to get a referendum on the ballot to overturn a project permit granted by a city or town. Proponents say developers have a right to know that their project is finally approved so they can move ahead without threat of a citizen’s referendum.

The debate in the House was passionate over the proposal, with opponents claiming it was backed by big-box stores and developers, who simply wanted to circumvent local review. They said councils or boards of selectmen could get projects through by refusing to hold the referendum within 75 days. Others agued that was not enough time for citizens to organize a campaign.

Bromley said for her it was about projects like the Great American Neighborhood in Scarborough, which was touted as a model for fighting sprawl in the suburbs and creating more affordable housing in areas where home prices have gone beyond many people’s reach.

In that proposal, developers had won approval for 397 housing units off a busy Route 1 intersection, only to have it overturned at the ballot box. The State Planning Office supported the project as a model of “smart-growth” and the Town Council approved it as fitting into its vision of good land use.

Developers ultimately won an appeal in court and have downsized the project, but the planning process has been going on now since 2001.

The possible veto of the 75-day limit was used in a bargaining process on the last day of session last Wednesday.

Bromley and Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Penobscot County, were rumored to be holding out their support of one of the governor’s Dirigo bills in return for his signature on the project permit legislation.

The Dirigo bill to make Dirigo Health insurance a self-funded program failed by two votes in the Senate, and no deal surfaced with the governor.

“I knew people thought that, and I wasn’t doing anything to disabuse them of that,” said Bromley of the rumored bargaining session, adding she really didn’t think taking Dirigo Health self-insured was a good idea.

Baldacci is also considering the fate of another Bromley bill, which essentially slaps the hands of the governor’s head of the Maine State Housing Authority, Dale McCormick.

McCormick set up rules in her agency that gave preference to contractors who offer health insurance to their employees. The bill, which passed last week, essentially says McCormick overstepped her authority and the rule should have come to the Legislature for approval.

Canney said Baldacci hasn’t made up his mind whether to sign that bill either.


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