February 22, 2019
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LePage thwarts affordable housing for seniors, claims to be looking out for them

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Gov. Paul LePage delivers the State of the State address to the Legislature at the State House in Augusta, Maine.

To listen to Gov. Paul LePage, it sounds as if he’s the only one looking out for the interests of Maine’s elderly residents.

LePage has invested substantial political capital in a bill, LD 1629, that would add new requirements for towns and cities to follow before they can foreclose on the home of someone 65 or older for failure to pay property taxes.

The bill would add a requirement that municipal officials help homeowners facing foreclosure apply for tax abatements, and discharge the lien if the homeowner is eligible. (Current law already requires that municipalities notify homeowners facing foreclosure of their right to apply for a property tax abatement.) Municipalities would also have to notify homeowners facing foreclosure that they have the option of pursuing a reverse mortgage. The bill would require that an independent broker — not the municipality — sell the foreclosed property. And it would require that the homeowner be able to recoup proceeds from the sale beyond what he or she owes the municipality in unpaid taxes, interest and fees.

The Legislature’s Taxation Committee amended the bill to remove many of those provisions. And committee members changed the bill so it wouldn’t only apply to homeowners 65 and older.

The legislation from LePage wouldn’t radically reshape the municipal foreclosure process. It wouldn’t lengthen the applicable timelines or prohibit municipalities from even engaging in the foreclosure process when it comes to older homeowners. It likely wouldn’t even apply to large numbers of seniors. (His administration hasn’t offered evidence that the governor is solving a widespread problem. LePage himself continues to highlight just one example.)

Nonetheless, the governor has characterized his bill as a significant measure to help seniors.

“I have been working hard to protect our elderly Mainers and to help them stay in their homes,” LePage said Thursday in his weekly radio address. “But Democrats in Augusta are playing politics again.”

“Instead of truly helping the elderly — like my bill would have done — they are doing just enough to check the box and make it look like they have taken action to help our seniors,” he continued in his radio address.

But there’s more the governor could do that actually would help larger numbers of seniors.

To start, he could release bonds approved by voters in 2015 authorizing the state to borrow $15 million to fund construction of affordable senior housing. He has, with no good explanation, stood in the way of the bonds’ release, delaying the chance for seniors to move into safe, affordable housing units.

The governor could also focus on keeping property taxes low for all who pay property taxes. But he’s stood in the way of those efforts as well.

He has attempted to eliminate municipal revenue sharing, a program mandated by state law that sends towns and cities a small share of the state’s sales and income tax revenue. If successful, that move would have eliminated a revenue source on which towns and cities rely. Without it, towns and cities would have to make up for it with higher property taxes, cuts to services or both. The governor has also attempted to eliminate the circuit breaker property tax reduction program for low-income homeowners under age 65 as well as the homestead exemption for homeowners younger than 65.

The governor is trying to claim the mantle of advocate for senior homeowners based on an effort to help a narrow cross-section of them. Meanwhile, he’s worked against a major investment that would help seniors move into safe, affordable homes. And he’s repeatedly stood in the way of measures that would actually make property tax bills more affordable for everyone in the first place.

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