2017-06-15 / Editorial

Governor holds up affordable senior housing

Beyond the Headlines
by Rep. Justin Chenette

Last week, I was proud to cast my vote along with a bipartisan group of fellow senators to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would have forced him to make good on the will of the voters and issue $15 million in bonds to fund the construction of affordable senior housing.

All in all, 26 of us voted to override the veto – enough to ensure that the bill could become law despite the governor’s objection. Seeing Democrats and Republicans put aside partisanship and come together in the best interest of seniors was one of the best moments I’ve experienced in my short time in the Senate.

Unfortunately, that proud moment was short lived. Just a day later, the bill went the House of Representatives, where the veto override fell short of the two-thirds margin necessary for the bill to become law. A group of 58 Republicans decided that fealty to Gov. LePage was more important that respecting the will of the voters who approved the bond in 2015 and more important than the seniors in every single Maine county who need an affordable place to live.

Today, more than 9,000 seniors households are on waitlists for affordable housing. My grandfather was on such a list until he passed away two years ago. That’s why voters approved $15 million in state borrowing to fund shovel-ready projects throughout the state that will provide safe, cost-effective homes for our elders. More than 70 percent of the Mainers who cast ballots on the bond question supported this senior housing spending. The $15 million from Maine would be matched by $22.5 million in other funds to be used to create homes that are not only affordable, but energy efficient. This funding could create 225 affordable homes, doubling the number being built each year.

But for two years, the governor has refused to issue those bonds, and those projects have been held up.

This bill, sponsored by a Republican senator, would have forced the governor to listen to Maine’s people, respect our seniors and do his job. I don’t know if it was fear of reprisal or spite that caused so many Republicans to uphold the governor’s veto. Regardless, their action was a slap in the face to democracy and to seniors struggling to stay in their homes.

There is simply no good reason for the governor to hold up these projects. I only wish I could say this were an isolated event. But it seems that these days it’s all too easy for elected officials in Augusta to ignore the will of the voters – whether it’s senior housing bonds or new laws passed by the people on subjects such as the minimum wage law, ranked-choice voting and education funding.

It takes five years for voter-approved bonds to expire. Next year, we will fight again to make the governor do his job and do the right thing for Maine’s seniors and the economy. Otherwise we have to wait for a new governor. I won’t give up until it’s done.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is owner of Chenette Media LLC, a multimedia public relations company, and is the president CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.com.

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