Mass-transit bill leaps one hurdle, heads for another

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A Senate committee Wednesday passed a measure that would give central Indiana residents a chance to vote on whether to pay higher taxes to expand the region’s bus system and add a high-speed rail line.

But lawmakers sent the bill to the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee to consider the bill’s impact on tax and fiscal issues where it may face tougher going. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, a member of the committee, recently expressed reservations about the bill and withdrew his sponsorship.

HB 1011 — which passed the Local Government Committee on a 7-2 vote — would let officials in Marion County and neighboring counties decide whether to put a referendum on the ballot asking voters to OK a mass-transit district and a tax increase to pay for it.

The tax increase could be up to 0.3 percentage points and the increase would raise $1.3 billion for more buses, more routes to go more places, and eventually the construction of a light-rail system between downtown Indianapolis and Hamilton County.

Proponents of the system, using federal grants, have mounted a widespread advertising and public relations campaign to tout possible benefits of the plan. Some of them spoke at Wednesday's hearing.

Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said the bill is needed because central Indiana’s “current transit system is woefully inadequate.”

Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, the bill’s author, said the bill would allow voters to decide on whether to improve the system and that doing so could mean more jobs for the region.

Charles Bantz, chancellor of IUPUI, agreed that the bill would foster economic development, mostly by keeping IUPUI students and students at other Hoosier colleges and universities interested in staying in Indiana.

“We think it’s critical that we fight the brain drain,” he said.

Richard Walsh, a student at DePauw University who also serves as the director of operations at Refined Sites, a web design company he helped create, said he and his business partners would like to stay in Indiana, but one thing may hold them back.

“There’s one catch: Transportation,” he said.

He said transportation costs under the current transit system inhibit accessibility to potential clients.

But opponents of the bill are concerned about the potential cost to taxpayers.

Chase Downham, the Indiana director of Americans for Prosperity, said he is mostly concerned because overall, transit projects are “often proven to be much more expensive than originally estimated.”

Randall O’Toole, a senior fellow from the Cato Institute who calls Oregon home, said costs are always more than projections. He said the bill assumes that the state will be able to get grants.

He said the transit expansion will not bring what supporters promise that it will — urban growth and economic development. He associated transit investment in several other cities with a loss of growth.

O’Toole said the state would be better off following the example of Las Vegas and privatizing transit operations.

“I’m for transit too,” he said. “But I’m for transit that doesn’t cost a lot more money.”

But Ron Gifford, executive director of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force and Indy Connect Now, said proponents of the bill have researched other cities to get best practices and learn from mistakes.

“In this community, we know how to build things,” he said. “We know how to build them on time. We know how to build them on budget, and this transit system will not be any different from that.”

Some lawmakers, including Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, are still skeptical of the bill but want to see it move forward and hear more discussion.

“There are certainly still some things that concern me about the bill,” he said. “But I want to keep this moving along and give the appropriations committee the opportunity to review it.”

Bray encouraged supporters to continue to make sure the public has plenty of input on the issue.


  • Highways funded with gas taxes.
    Um, Joe. Those highways are not funded with public tax dollars, they are funded by gas taxes, which are paid for by the people who use the roads. There are SOME subsidies, mainly at the local level. All total though, the subsidy is only about a penny per passenger mile. Transit subsidizes are around 50 to 100 times greater per passenger mile. I'm all in favor of getting rid of subsidies. Don't forget that about 15% of the gas taxes that I pay to built/maintain roads is instead looted by congress to pay for mass transit boondogles that very few people use. The math is clear. If you want public transit the most cost effective way to do it is with buses. It is not only cheaper, but more flexible than rail. Roads are dirt cheap to built and maintain. You send out a patching crew once a year. Resurface with asphalt after 30, and then go though and rebuild it after 50. Rails require far more maintenance.
  • Socialists
    People who really know transportation are aware that light rail requires a certain population density. The Indy metro area does not meet that density requirement. This is about a group of people who are anxious to spend other peoples money.
  • Trends
    The largely graying population will not always be able to drive to get around and the large number of large homes built on large lots will not be able to be sold to younger generations who are more interested in living in urban areas with food, alcohol, and entertainment. This will likely force many people to have to age in place in their existing home. Once they are not able to continue driving, this will be a necessity for a large demographic of Indianapolis' population and a driving factor in attracting young educated professionals who realize that transit costs are much higher when owning a vehicle than being able to rely on public transit. It is time to stop looking at the here and now, and begin making the best dicisions for Indianapolis' future. (Further information on this can be found through your search bar)
    • Lobbyist
      Mr. Gifford is a lobbyist according to the state registry. Who is paying him and how much? I saw a lot of money in that hearing room yesterday that wanted their hands on as much taxpayer money as they could get. This thing is about money not a transit system
    • Entitled rich kids
      Richard Walsh: be a man and buy a car like the rest of us workers do. Rich DePauw graduates are not entitled to other people paying for their transportation. If you can afford to start a web design company, you can afford a car.
    • What a Tool
      I don't recall O'Toole attending many highway construction bills authorizing the use of public tax dollars for the creation of additional lane miles. Now that I think about it, I don't recall getting to vote on highway funding and projects. It seems it is just money taken from me regardless of how I use the system and then it is even spread beyond my community in some sort of socialist distribution process..........How about it O'Toole?

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