Mass-transit bill clears Senate committee, with changes

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A mass-transit bill for metro Indianapolis cleared a key Senate committee Tuesday morning, but left open many questions about how such a system would be funded.

The bill allows Marion County and surrounding counties to hold referendums on whether to increase their local income taxes to support the $1.3 billion system. The bill also calls for counties to adopt corporate income or employment taxes and requires fares to cover 25 percent of the operating costs. It also was amended to include a ban on using light rail.

The corporate income tax provision is a new wrinkle in the overall financing plan, and IndyConnect Executive Director Ron Gifford admitted that it’s not clear how it would all come together.

“There are questions about the mechanism, about the policy, about the rate,” he said.

But supporters were relieved to have the proposal clear the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, which last year sidelined the initiative for summer study. The committee voted 8-4 to send the bill to the full Senate. Several members, including Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, said they still had reservations, but were willing to keep the bill alive.

Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, the author of Senate Bill 176, said it essentially allows local communities to bring transportation to their areas.

“It will probably be amended a number of times as it moves through the process,” she said.

The corporate-tax requirement drew opposition from Americans for Prosperity and the Indiana Manufacturers Association, but committee Chairman Brant Hershman, R-Lafayette, defended it as a matter of fairness. Businesses subject to the individual income tax would see a hike because of mass transit, and he said, “Larger corporations should participate as well.”

IndyConnect hopes to see a referendum about public transit on local ballots this November.

The Senate committee accepted an amendment, filed late Monday, that included a ban on the use of light rail and an unrelated provision for a city of Indianapolis public works project.

The light-rail component of the plan drew fire last year because of its potential costs, but Gifford said it might be a moot point. Planners are looking at the best technology to use on the northeast or "green" line, running from Noblesville to downtown, and might decide bus rapid transit is the better option, Gifford said.

Another provision would allow the mayor of Indianapolis to raise money through bonding without the City-County Council’s approval. Mayor Greg Ballard last summer unveiled a plan to borrow up to $135 million for a host of upgrades, including sidewalks, but the council never acted on the plan.

The amendment to SB 176 allows the Indiana Finance Authority to issue bonds and pledge the proceeds to the city, which would pay back up to $7.5 million a year through excise surtax and wheel-tax revenue.

Ballard testified on behalf of the mass-transit bill.

Spokesman Marc Lotter said the mayor's office learned of the amendment Monday night.

"It is clear to me that, similar to Mayor Ballard, Senate Republicans believe we can improve Indy neighborhoods by investing in better streets, sidewalks and transit," he said.


  • Pavement
    That's what it's all about. If it doesn't involve using pavement, it's not allowed. If they could figure out a way to force us all to drive coal-powered cars, they'd do that too.
  • Annoyed
    I find this ridiculous and annoying. If Indianapolis wants to be the "sports capital" and bring in people to live in the state they must get with the program. As a mother of a visually impaired child who may or may not drive-it is disappointing that I have to tell him he will not be able to live in Indianapolis due to lack of effective transportation. And why does everything have to focus on the north side? There are people in all other sides of town that would benefit from good transportation to anywhere in the city. They spend so much time trying to get a super bowl bid -concentrate on taking care of the people that live here.
  • What Planet Do Our Legislators Live On?
    Requirements beget good policy that begets practical and affordable alternatives that beget good decision making. None of these basics seem to be apparent in the legislature's so-called deliberations. It sounds like a bunch of goofballs got together and decided what they liked and didn't like and then came up with some convoluted proposal that makes no sense. Are you kidding me--mass transit that excludes light rail!! What planet are these people living on?
  • Is That All?
    I'm surprised our legislative titans haven't also specified the color schemes for the buses, banned benches and shelters at bus stops, and ordained that members of the GLBT community sit in special sections in the backs of the buses.
  • No LRT???
    The light rail amendment is absolutely ridiculous!!!
  • Koch Brothers Puppets
    Americans for Prosperity is is owned by the Koch Brothers. Why are they sticking their nose in Indianapolis business? They are no good and only mean to harm to our way of life.
  • Jen
    Jen you forget that Indiana AKA " Mississippi of the North" is controlled by a powerful group of overseer's. Those of use who live on the Hoosier Plantation should expect to be told who we can or can not marry and what type of transit the masses we can or can not consider. The masses need to be saved from themselves. As far as "world class", what world are we talking about?
  • No light rail? What's the point?
    Why ban light rail from being chosen? Let the experts (planners) decide what is most efficient, cost effective, and provides the best service. They might choose BRT in the end, but don't take the most common option, light rail, out of the process. Lunacy!! Only in Indiana....
  • Light Rail
    Why does Salt Lake City, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, St Louis, San Diego, even freaking Norfolk Virginia all get to have Light Rail, but our supposed world class city can't??
  • No light-rail, no deal!
    Should a referendum come to our ballots, please vote no. This has been false advertising from the beginning. The public's interest was peeked by promises of mixed planning including but not limited to light-rail. Now the bill explicitly "bans" light rail as an option. A "ban" in a bill of this magnitude has nothing to do with controlling cost and everything to do with protecting special interests. A ban only guarantees car rental companies and overpriced bus manufacturers have no competition. I don't wish us to live in a city where city and state officials sell us a more than billion dollar busing system. There are several individuals who have worked nearly a decade to move a Central Indiana Transit project forward. Millions of dollars have been spent to pay their salaries and put them in hybrid vehicles to drive the idea of a progressive transportation project. All of that money has been for nothing and we are literally about to be asked to spend over a billion dollars upgrading and expanding IndyGo. It's shameful how deceitful and conniving these officials have been with this project. I believe they count on voters like me, who sincerely believed in the merits of this project not to discover we were on a fool's errand. I sincerely hope voters wake to their tactics and run a train through this bill.
  • Comprehensive Plan?
    I know it has been worked on, but before any voter votes to increase their taxes, we need to see a consolidated comprehensive plan of what we will actually be paying for.
  • Shocking
    First we have a referendum, and if it doesn't pass then the state will stuff the taxes down our throats. looking like another tax the poor scheme for Indiana. We pay, They play.

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  1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

  2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

  3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

  4. No, HarveyF, the exact opposite. Greater density and closeness to retail and everyday necessities reduces traffic. When one has to drive miles for necessities, all those cars are on the roads for many miles. When reasonable density is built, low rise in this case, in the middle of a thriving retail area, one has to drive far less, actually reducing the number of cars on the road.

  5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.