On the Nov. 3 state ballot, we urge voters to check the yes box on Questions 2 and 3, which are both bond proposals.

Question 2 is “an act to authorize a General Fund bond issue to support the independence of Maine’s seniors.” Question 3 is “an act to authorize two General Fund bond issues to improve highways, bridges and multimodal facilities.” Together, the two referendums would provide $15 million for developing senior-citizen housing and $85 million for transportation-related projects at Maine ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails. Since they trigger additional funds, they’re a good deal for Maine.

Question 2 seems money especially well spent, since Maine’s elderly population is growing quickly due to prolonged life expectancy and because housing stock is limited. The numbers tell the story:

• According to the 2012 Census and information from a study commissioned by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, Maine has the largest percentage of elderly, defined as those aged 55 and older, in the nation. Of 1.29 million Mainers, 418,000 are older than the age of 55, or 32.3 percent.

• In that same data from 2012, 21 percent of elderly people were living in unaffordable housing, defined as rents or mortgages that cost more than 30 percent of one’s income.

• Rental markets are tight, especially here in southern Maine. And wait lists for already established senior housing is even tighter, with years-long delays the norm. The study showed that there was a shortage of about 9,000 affordable housing available to low-income Mainers in 2012 and that’ll grow to an estimated 15,000 in 2022.

So, with all these seniors in need of affordable housing, especially here in southern Maine, why don’t developers get on the ball, erect what’s needed and reap the windfall profits? Why did the Legislature need to approve this referendum? The question is a good one and has an answer: The marketplace may be clamoring for senior housing, but the costs associated with building it are gargantuan and private enterprise, without some help from government, is unlikely to invest in properties in which low-income tenants are unable to pay back the investors’ initial investment. It would take many years, especially in areas where land is expensive.

The referendum – which is the first senior housing bond in a while to cross the people’s desk – was originally presented as a $65 million proposal, but was whittled to $15 million in the Legislature. We think the voters should embrace the proposal and perhaps the Legislature should think about issuing another bond in the near future, since the data show senior housing needs to be more of a priority here in the grayest state in the nation.

We’re also in support of the third question on the Nov. 3 ballot that would raise $85 million for transportation-related projects in Maine. Of that amount, $65 million would be allocated to construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and $17 million to facilities and equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation, freight and passenger railroads and bike and pedestrian trails that preserve public safety and have demonstrated high economic value, according to information from the Maine Secretary of State’s office.

The sweetest part of the transportation bond is that it triggers a hefty $121.5 million from the federal government. Mainers spend $85 million, the feds spend $121 million. Not a bad deal.

For the record, we’re not a fan of all these bonds, however. We wish the legislators elected to represent us would stick to the representative democracy form of government the founders gave us and stop putting these basic needs on the ballot. We are perennially disappointed with how the secretary of state’s office provides little detail for these transportation bonds, and we sympathize with well-intentioned voters trying to comprehend the ballot in the voter’s booth. With Question 3, there is a reason for the vagueness, since lawmakers and administration officials want a lack of designation so they can have the flexibility to direct the money where it is most needed. You’d think, however, that some designation would be offered so voters can have some sense of what they’re voting for.

Perhaps the best reason to vote for Question 3 is that both sides of the aisle, and even the governor, are behind the bond. And for Gov. Paul LePage, who swore off issuing any bonds a few years ago, to be supportive of a bond package is worth noting.

–John Balentine, managing editor


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