AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers have advanced a bill to force the release of $15 million in bonds for senior citizen housing that voters approved two years ago, but an initial House vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s expected veto.
The Democratic-controlled House on Tuesday voted 85-57 supporting the bill. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill with a 26-8 vote.
Republican Sen. Roger Katz’s bill would remove the state requirement that the state treasurer issue the housing bonds under the governor’s direction. Voter-approved bonds expire in five years under the state constitution.
The bill faces further action in both chambers before heading to Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s desk. Additional two-thirds majority votes in both chambers are required for an override.
Democrats have led unsuccessful efforts to force LePage to release the bonds, which 69 percent of voters approved. Affordable housing advocates and developers estimate that Maine has a shortage of 9,000 affordable homes for seniors.
“Unless we act, seniors will continue to be deprived of housing they need, the desire of Maine people will be ignored,” said Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine, who stressed that the bill would only apply to the housing bonds.
Assistant House Republican Leader Ellie Espling warned the bill “sets a bad precedent” and hampers the discretion of future chief executives.
Republican Rep. Will Tuell said he initially had reservations about the bonds but said they’ll serve both rural and urban communities in need. He also acknowledged his own lingering concerns about Katz’s bill.
“I feel we’re at a point now, where we need to act,” Tuell said. “Whether this makes you feel all warm and fuzzy — I’ll be honest it doesn’t.”
LePage said he is refusing to release the bonds to protect Maine’s fiscal health. He contends that releasing the bonds would enrich a few individuals, although he has not provided any proof of this.
His office says the bill endangers the constitutional separation of powers.