AUGUSTA –– House Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that would have bypassed Gov. Paul LePage and allowed the state treasurer to sell $15 million in voter-approved bonds for senior citizen housing projects.

On a vote of 89-58, supporters of the bond measure failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override LePage’s veto, one day after the Republican-controlled Senate voted 29-6 to move forward with the bonds without the governor. But House Republicans sided with LePage, who had accused lawmakers of attempting “a complete overhaul of Maine’s entire bonding process” and an “unconstitutional power grab” by attempting to sidestep him.

The bill’s failure leaves in limbo $15 million in bonds that could help to reduce waiting list for senior housing in Maine, a point that bond supporters made repeatedly during Wednesday’s floor debate.

“This housing is sorely needed by seniors across the state, in rural communities and urban communities,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook. “It would be a tremendous benefit for Maine seniors.”

Two years ago, the Legislature gave bipartisan approval to a proposal to borrow $15 million to help provide seniors with affordable, energy-efficient homes or for weatherization and “adaptive reuse” of existing structures. Nearly 70 percent of voters approved the bond package in November 2015. But LePage has offered several reasons for his refusal to authorize the bond sale, including concerns about eligible projects for the revenues and allegations that the bond bill was written “to help two or three people become millionaires overnight.”

In his veto message, LePage did not address the issue of housing the growing number of senior citizens in Maine — the nation’s oldest state, per capita — but instead focused on the bonding process. LePage wrote that “any departure from our current bonding process creates market uncertainties” that could harm the state’s credit rating. The governor also dismissed the bill as an “unconstitutional power grab by one branch of government to use as a political bludgeon against another branch.”


“This bill, however, would constitute the Legislature exercising the Executive’s discretion by dictating how and when the decision to issue bonds must take place,” LePage wrote. “The doctrine of separation of powers, however, specifies that one branch of government cannot exercise the authority of another branch.”

Not so, argued bond supporters on Thursday.

Rep. Karl Ward of Dedham, who was one of a dozen Republicans to support overriding LePage’s veto, said the Maine Constitution does not specifically provide the governor with a role in issuing bonds. The bond bill passed by the Legislature two years ago does provide a role to the governor, however, Ward pointed out that the Legislature can just as easily change that requirement by overriding LePage’s veto of L.D. 832.

“These are real opportunities and these projects are ready to move forward, ready to built by Maine builders when the funding is finally freed up,” said Ward, the president and CEO of a large construction firm. “The leaders in these communities realize these projects will provide desperately needed safe, affordable homes to Maine seniors. And they will provide hundreds of Maine people to work.”

But Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said governor is trying to make sure the bonds are issued in a way that maximizes every dollar for seniors.

“Rather than trying to play micro-managers today and not following the law that we previously passed, what we ought to do is sustain the chief executive’s veto and let him do the work that he needs to do,” said Fredette, House minority leader.

Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, expressed disappointment with the House vote.

“Today’s vote was a victory for partisan politics over the well-being of our seniors and the will of Maine’s voters,” Payne said in a statement. “Meanwhile, long waiting lists for senior housing will only grow longer, and people will only grow more desperate. We all deserve better.”


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