Daily Brief: LePage, Eves at odds over $65 million senior housing bond

Good morning from Augusta, where a proposal by House Speaker Mark Eves is poised to be the eye in a storm of debate over the state’s responsibility to provide affordable housing for Maine’s seniors. 

Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, wants the state to take out a $65 million bond to pay for part of the construction of 1,000 energy-efficient affordable homes for seniors in all 16 counties. Eves pitches the plan as part of his “KeepME Home” initiative, and says it will not only provide housing for Maine’s needy seniors but create jobs in Maine’s construction and related industries. 

The plan on Thursday received the backing of 159 companies and groups, including the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine, Maine Council on Aging, and others (see the full list here). The groups made their support known in a letter to Gov. Paul LePage, in which they urged the governor to support Eves’ proposal. 

LePage, however, said Thursday that the bond is the wrong way to go. Instead, he said he’d support the continued efforts of the Maine State Housing Authority to create affordable housing in Maine. 

“By using general obligation bonds for senior housing, we are placing the state in deeper debt and putting additional burden on the backs of Maine taxpayers,” LePage said in a written statement. “The Maine State Housing Authority has the ability to issue bonds to finance affordable senior housing under its current authority. I support the balanced approach they are taking already with the resources they have.”

“Maine Housing already is creating 250-300 new apartments each and every year,” he added. “About half of them are for seniors and the rest are for other needy Mainers. They are trying to balance competing needs.”

Eves’ initiatives on Maine’s elderly are shaping up to be his signature policy goals this year, and LePage’s opposition will be a big hurdle for the Democratic Speaker. Even if Eves can win support of lawmakers and the public for the bond, the fight may not be over, as the governor has shown his willingness to delay bonds in the past. 

Eves’ spokeswoman, Jodi Quintero, said she was “surprised to see the governor turn his back on helping seniors live independently longer, while also growing good jobs in Maine.” — Mario Moretto.

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Chin to fight “Dirty Lew” image in Lewiston mayoral race

The Sun Journal was the first to report Thursday that Ben Chin, political director for the liberal Maine People’s Alliance, will challenge Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald in November’s election.

Macdonald and Chin are polar opposites. The former is described by the Sun Journal as “a conservative firebrand.” The latter is a leader in the state’s leading liberal advocacy group, a post Chin told me Thursday that he’d retain if he became mayor.

I spoke with Chin, a Bates graduate, briefly about his goals. He said Macdonald was too divisive, and that the state’s second-largest city must “have a big conversation” about its future.

Chin cited a slate of devastating fires in 2013 and the presence of absentee landlords in the downtown’s residential neighborhoods as evidence the city “has not yet decided to break from its past.”

Lewiston is sometimes derisively referred to by outsiders as “The Dirty Lew,” which Chin said increasingly doesn’t represent the city.

“There are whole generations of young people who are ready to take this city in a different direction,” he said. — Mario Moretto

Weed campaign gets green leader

Legalize Maine, one of two groups pushing to place a marijuana legalization referendum on 2016’s ballot, announced Thursday it had hired Lynne Williams as it’s campaign supervisor and volunteer coordinator.

Williams, a Bar Harbor attorney, is a former state chairwoman of Maine’s Green Independent Party. Avid readers will recognize her as a frequent critic of wind power development projects, or as the lawyer who represented five “Occupy” protesters who jumped the fence and staged a demonstration at the Blaine House in 2011.

Williams is also involved with NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, according a news release from Legalize Maine. The group says Williams helped draft its proposed legislation.

“I am so excited to be in the position of making a historic change in the drug laws which have long vilified marijuana and marijuana users and filled our prisons with non-violent offenders.” Williams said  in the release.“The change is long overdue and I am thrilled that Maine is likely to be the next state to move forward on this issue.”

Legalize Maine plans to begin its campaign to gather the necessary signatures for a people’s referendum in April. — Mario Moretto

Reading list

Lab love

The prospect of making the Labrador retriever Maine’s state dog hit a rough patch this week when a Legislative committee recommended against it, but new data from the American Kennel Club says love for Labs goes way beyond Maine.

Labs have been the most popular dogs in the nation for 24 years running according to coverage of the annual AKC survey by the Associated Press. However, bulldogs and French bulldogs — the latter of which is apparently sometimes called “a clown in the cloak of a philosopher” — are making inroads in the top 10.

Maybe it’s time for an amendment? — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.