From the Field: Maine Legislature Fails to Override Governor’s Veto of Senior Housing Bond

The latest attempt in a two-year effort to implement a $15 million senior housing bond package was narrowly defeated in the Maine state legislature on June 8. The bond would leverage an additional $22.5 million in private capital for the construction of more than 200 new housing units and the weatherization of 100 additional housing units for seniors.

The Maine State Legislature first passed a senior housing bond bill in June 2015 with overwhelming bipartisan support from both the Democratic-controlled State House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled State Senate. (See Memo 8/31/15.) After a failed veto attempt by Governor Paul LePage (R), the bond advanced to a November 2015 statewide ballot, where nearly 70% of Maine voters approved of the measure.

Notwithstanding the popularity of the measure among both voters and elected officials, Mr. LePage persisted in his opposition, telling a town hall audience in April 2016 that he would prevent the sale of the bond as long as he was governor. Ordinarily, once a housing bond clears the threshold of a statewide ballot, the state treasurer would then begin the process of selling bonds to investors.

Advocates led by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), an NLIHC state partner, persevered in insisting on full implementation of the bond measure. As members of the State Legislature convened this spring, advocates supported LD 832, a bill introduced by State Senator Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) to eliminate any need for Mr. LePage’s approval to sell the bond. “I think the principle here is pretty simple: when Maine voters have approved state borrowing at the ballot box, no one - including a governor - should have the right to veto that decision,” said Mr. Katz at his testimony in support of his bill to the State Legislature’s joint-chamber Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

LD 832 passed in both chambers of the legislature with the support of all Democrats and most Republicans, on a vote of 26-8 in the Senate and a vote of 85-57 in the House. As many predicted, Mr. LePage vetoed the bill, but it then returned to the state legislature for a veto-override vote. The vote to override easily cleared the Senate but failed to pass in the House. Eighty-nine state representatives voted to override the veto, with 58 voting against. The measure needed 98 votes to achieve the required two-thirds majority.

MAHC’s “Profile of Maine’s Older Population and Housing Stock” report examines both the unique housing needs of seniors in Maine and the aging housing stock across the state. (See Memo 10/24/16.) According to the report, 52% of Maine’s renter households over age 55 are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their gross monthly income on rent and utilities, and 24% are severely cost-burdened, paying more than half of their income on housing. Nearly 40% of renter-occupied homes in Maine were built prior to 1950, making the homes and their residents especially vulnerable during the state’s harsh winter months. These twin issues guide the ongoing work of advocates to implement the senior housing bond initiative.

“The final State House vote was a victory for partisan politics over the well-being of our seniors and the will of Maine’s voters,” said Greg Payne, MAHC director and chair of the NLIHC board of directors. “Meanwhile, long waiting lists for senior housing will only grow longer, and people will only grow more desperate. Despite this failure of leadership, we will continue to try to address those needs as best we can, while also advocating for the housing resources that Maine’s seniors deserve.”

Mr. LePage is term-limited and will remain in office until January 2019. Advocates are hopeful that Maine’s next governor will issue the senior housing bond prior to its constitutionally mandated expiration in 2020.

For more information, contact Greg Payne at gpayne@mainehousingcoalition.org.