Gov. Mike Pence on Wednesday afternoon signed a bill that would permit an expansion of mass transit in central Indiana, if voters approve an income tax hike.
The legislation, titled Senate Enrolled Act 176, authorizes officials in Marion, Madison, Johnson, Hancock, Hamilton and Delaware counties to seek voter permission to raise income taxes to fund a regional bus system. The goal is to add more buses and more routes to connect more areas of central Indiana.
The House passed the bill 66-34 and the Senate approved it 32-16.
Pence said that he believed that decisions regarding economic development and quality of life were best made on the local level.
“Our capital city is a world class destination and needs a world class transit system,” Pence said in prepared comments. “I signed this bill because the General Assembly made significant improvements during the legislative process, bringing to closure years of debate on this issue.
“The final version contains no new, local corporate tax, which would have reduced our state’s overall competitiveness, and it contains no light rail, which would have greatly increased the cost to taxpayers in the long term.”
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard hailed the decision.
“This marks a significant step forward for the growth of Indy and the rest of Central Indiana,” Ballard said. “Today is a day for Indy to celebrate but not the day to declare victory. There is still much work to be done.”
Michael Huber, president and CEO of Indy Chamber, said the group was looking forward to making the case for expanded regional transit in central Indiana communities.
“We agree that investment in mass transit is a choice elected officials and voters should make for themselves,” Huber said. “Lack of transit in Central Indiana weakens access to jobs and isolates neighborhoods.”
The final bill is a compromise between versions passed by the House and Senate during the recent legislative session. Most notably the Senate bill included a corporate tax increase that would have helped pay for the system.
Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Indianapolis, said he wanted the corporate tax included because businesses were among the biggest supporters of a transit expansion. But House leaders said they didn’t want to create a new local business tax.
Instead, the bill requires local officials to seek voluntary corporate donations and participation. And if counties don’t raise enough to cover at least 10 percent of the cost of the transit system, taxpayers would have to pick up the tab.