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Mass-transit bill slips through Senate with changes

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The Senate passed a mass transit bill 28-20 on Tuesday that’s meant to give central Indiana officials authority to impose new taxes to pay for an expanded bus system for the region.

Senate Bill 176 could mean higher taxes for individuals and corporations—but only if county officials vote to impose them and voters agree via county referendums.

The bill now moves to the House, where it’s likely to undergo changes. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Tuesday that his caucus is concerned about the mix of taxes. In the past, the House has passed mass-transit bills that permitted local income tax increases but never higher taxes on businesses.

“I am pleased to see this legislation move forward," Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said in a prepared statement. "Convenient and reliable transportation is critical to attracting new residents and is crucial to the future growth of central Indiana. We have been nationally recognized over the last few years as a great place to live, work and raise a family. A modern, regional mass-transit system is the next step to drive central Indiana forward as an economic engine for our state.”

SB 176 also requires that at least 25 percent of the operating costs for the system come from user fares.

The bill is “going to need some work,” Bosma said. “The concept we agree on. The means of getting there has been the difficulty for a decade.”

The bill passed a Senate committee last week – but without Democratic support. That’s because Republicans included language that would prohibit labor from using binding arbitration to set wages and transfer the authority to issue debt to Gov. Mike Pence’s administration from the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council.

The Senate voted on Monday to strip the debt language out of the bill. But the arbitration language remained, drawing criticism from a number of Democrats.

“These labor dispute issues have no business in a transit bill,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage.

Still, Tallian voted for the bill, saying she cares enough about the underlying mass-transit proposal to keep the legislation moving through the process.

Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said she’s concerned that the state and city of Indianapolis could lose federal transit funding if the legislature sticks with the ban on binding arbitration.

“We don’t need to undermine working men and women with a partisan bill,” she said.

Americans for Prosperity, a group that fights for smaller government, said it was disappointed in the bill's advancement.

“The Indiana Senate just opened the door to the possibility of $125 million in new taxes for many central Indiana residents,” said Chase Downham, Indiana state director for AFP, in a prepared statement. “Although this is a setback, we never expected this to be an easy fight. We will continue as we have always to stand up for Hoosier taxpayers and job creators as this issue moves to the Indiana House for further debate.”

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  • Because...
    Farebox revenue doesn't cover 100% of the cost of any transit system anywhere, ever. And motorists aren't the only ones who pay for roads. Billions of dollars from taxes go towards constructing roads in this state that I'll never use, like the one you take from Johnson to Bartholomew. You think your wheel tax foots 100% of that bill? Not at all.
  • Well Said
    Well Said!
  • RE: rant
    Oh man, some real doozies here: "Besides, why should *you* --as a downtowner-- want or need light rail? Why do you enter into this discussion? Aren't you "enlightened" (i.e. you live where you work, shop and play -- all downtown?)" BZZT, wrong. Sorry, but you're making an assumption about me that's just not true. I travel by car almost every day, although if the bus system were better I might be able to substitute a small percentage of those trips (maybe 20%). "Or do you want others to pay for your train?" It's not my train (or bus). That's the whole point. Transit would benefit the city for everyone by making it a better place to live and a nicer place to visit... perhaps you've never visited a city with functioning mass transit, but it improves the city. I don't want it because it would benefit ME. I want it because it would benefit the community. That's my whole point about selfishness... people who don't want their tax money to be spent on anything that doesn't DIRECTLY benefit them are really shortsighted. "Public policy should not be guided by what *you* (or I) want." I agree with this except somehow you believe it applies more to me than to you, i.e., we shouldn't spend money on transit because YOU wouldn't ride it. Ever fathom the possibility that there are other people like me in the city (heaven forbid)? What about tourists and conventioneers visiting the city? You seem to be able to see this only as a competition between the "takers" who want some kind of "free benefit" and the taxpayers who would pay for it, rather than the possibility that it might have some kind of larger benefit for everyone, and thus be something that's worth having everyone pay for. Should we eliminate sidewalks? They are expensive to put in and maintain, and people who walk don't pay gas tax for the privilege (some pedestrians undoubtedly don't pay any tax). Yet, somehow, the city has managed to put in sidewalks (at least in some areas of the city) because someone, at some time, decided that it would be better for the community if we made it easy to get around by foot. Was the Monon trail a mistake? Bicyclists don't pay gas tax. But the last time I was there on a nice day it was packed with these nefarious "freeloaders" biking and jogging, and just about everyone I know thinks it's a nice feature that makes Indy a better place to live.
    • Just more twisted misinformation from the "Me generation"
      @Downtowner sez: "the fact that every non-tolled highway in the state is paid for by taxpayers. These same people who don't want "their" tax dollars to pay for transit (because they wouldn't ride it), are driving every day on highways paid for by someone else's tax dollars! It's just incredibly selfish" 1. you misunderstand the 'fact' you wish to make a big deal about. Gas taxes pay for those highways, so the relevant conclusion is that the users of highways pay for the road system they utilize. If you dont' drive, you don't. How is that 'incredibly selfish'? 2. and are you not aware that the federal subsidy to transit comes SOLELY from those same gas taxes - and highway users- ON TOP of their support of the road system? That cannot be said for transit. So, again, how is that 'incredibly selfish'? 3. it doesn't matter whether or not it was you who said rail would help de-congest roads; the proponents of these systems often make such (baseless) claims. That the riders no longer get caught in traffic, so what? If that's an objective you support, then don't support a *line* that doesn't improve the situation except for a very small sliver of those who ARE caught in traffic. In other words, advance a more comprehensive solution; a single rail line is far, far from one. (And you dodge the fact that multiple lines -or network- of rail would be extraordinarily expensive. The road system isn't.) Besides, why should *you* --as a downtowner-- want or need light rail? Why do you enter into this discussion? Aren't you "enlightened" (i.e. you live where you work, shop and play -- all downtown?) Or do you want others to pay for your train? Public policy should not be guided by what *you* (or I) want. That's "incredibly selfish". Perhaps you should look into the mirror more closely and desist from spreading misinformation.
      • @TIM
        We do not need small town minded people like you...This is a city.
      • INDY NEEDS LIGHTRAIL
        Indy you can not listen to these Indy residents that moved from Rushville, Seymore, Kokomo and these other dinky towns. These are people with small town mindsets that do not understand things such as public transportation. Please get advice from city folks such as Seattle, DC, Portland, San Francisco. These are cities that have thriving public transportation.
      • Trip to Fishers
        Question - I don't go to the surrounding counties very often. Is there a way I can have my tax dollars allocated to a mass transit system that I would use instead of to a "free"way system that I don't use?
      • RE: costly ventures
        Fishers Gal calls transit "a costly venture that will never be self-supporting and will only cost us more in taxes." You mean like the interstate highway system? Note: I'm not arguing to defund the interstate highway system. I'm simply saying that if your standard for transit investment is that it has to be cheap, self-supporting, and not cost taxpayer dollars, then you've set an awfully high bar, which would preclude ever investing in any highway or road other than a toll road.
      • RE: Overblown
        THeller, I never suggested constructing transit would reduce traffic. I implied that the folks riding light rail (which I understand is off the table for this bill) WON'T be stuck in traffic. Moreover, I made a subtle (perhaps too subtle) allusion to the fact that every non-tolled highway in the state is paid for by taxpayers. These same people who don't want "their" tax dollars to pay for transit (because they wouldn't ride it), are driving every day on highways paid for by someone else's tax dollars! It's just incredibly selfish that people who live in the suburbs think it's totally reasonable to spend MASSIVE amounts of tax dollars subsidizing the lifestyle they choose to live (i.e., the state should be responsible for building, maintaining, plowing, etc., a highway out of the city so they can race back to their cul-de-sac at the end of the day), but are unwilling to contribute a penny to something that benefits the city's infrastructure more broadly (because those "other people" might get a disproportional benefit from it).
      • Question
        Doesn't this version of the bill only include provisions for expanded bus and bus rapid transit and NOT rail?
      • Gosh PAC
        Maybe if you look at the NOT VERY FEW homes in Hamilton and Marion counties that would be adversely affected by light rail (there are multiple neighborhoods between Noblesville and the end of the rail line with homes that back to the tracks), maybe you'd realize why some of us are against this. There are hundreds of homeowners whose values would suffer. We all pay our fair share of taxes and don't want to see our biggest investments robbed of value because of a costly venture that will never be self-supporting and will only cost us more in taxes.
        • Not always
          My house is on a cul-de-sac that backs up to the tracks but will have no walkable access to a station. The constant noise of trains will not help my property values.
        • Overblown, misunderstood claims
          Downtowner writes: "you will know when you are getting close to a station because you will see development and construction. Areas of the city that previously would have been "undesirable" to live in suddenly become the most desirable" 1. most if not all of such development near to a station will be publicly-subsidized in one form or another (TIF, tax abatement, etc) like was the case in Portland, OR. [and, to the extent it increases someone's property value, a rail line is a subsidy itself. And such subsidies are concentrated particularly on downtown properties, since that's where its function [delivering people to buildings] is focused.] 2. gentrification of "undesirable" places requires the current inhabitants to find housing elsewhere, at higher cost -- and often subsidy. It doesn't magically "solve" that area's problems; it simply disperses/moves them. See recent WSJ piece: http://bit.ly/LyvQAm 3. suggestions that transit helps 'de-congest' roads are laughable; the numbers just don't work out. I follow this topic and have never seen any empirical evidence of this. (In Seattle, the proposed light rail line was claimed to be "the equivalent of a 12-lane freeway" but the ridership forecast predicted removal of only 1 in 1,000 vehicles on the parallel interstate bridge less than a half-mile away. Listen to this audio clip from 2003, a persistent untruth broadcast far & wide by a champion of the project: http://bit.ly/OmEzVd Her claim is disproved by this graphic: http://bit.ly/PhrcYc
          • Suburbs as Well As Downtown Can Be Connected
            I don't think having a mass transit system is trying to be "cool" as some of the commenters suggest; it is more of a long term necessity as highway congestion grows and gas becomes more costly. One point that seems to be missed is that a good system can connect the suburbs with lateral lines as well having direct lines to the downtown. And to the gentleman that says he paid for all his transportation--does really think he covered the costs of building our massive interstate highways and bridges?
          • We are not other cities
            I'm amused by the arguments that amount to "If you don't build mass transit, you'll miss out on all those cool folks who expect a cheap ride to work." The businesses pushing for it and the riders should pay the lion's share of the cost. Rail is the most expensive and least flexible option. Indianapolis is unique, and I hope the mass transit project is not some pathetic attempt to be like the cool cities.
          • My main point is
            Why should only individuals have to burden the cost of this through raised income taxes? Downtown businesses will use this service and encourage employees to use it to get downtown. So, why should they not have to burden some of the cost of this since it benefits them? Why is the only solution to pay for this to raise my income tax?
          • brilliant
            You don't know where her house is. Maybe it's right next to the rail line, in which it would lower the value as there isn't a train on it now. So she should sell her house for a premium to all you pro-mass transit folks since you all want to be close to the rail line.
          • LOL
            See? He paid for all of his own transportation! L-O-L
          • don't raise individual income taxes
            Let businesses and users pay for the service. All you pro-mass transit people are welcome to donate your money to fund it too. Put your money where your big mouths are. I worked hard and paid for my own transportation already.
          • Donuts kill
            The donut counties will kill this on referendum. No way it passes any county outside of Marion. People won't vote for a system they won't use and face it, the bulk of folks in the donut counties will not use an expanded mass transit system. Traffic just isn't bad enough to justify it. And to the person saying the suburbs need this so they don't get left behind, you need to get out more, as Marion county is the one who needs it, the donut counties are doing just fine.
          • Mass Transit Is Essential to Efficiency and QOL
            I have traveled all around the country and have used mass transit systems in NYC, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Atlanta. These are all vibrant cities where mass transit is not relegated to the poor. Many suburbanites use these systems, which help reduce the congestion on the highways, promote efficiency, and improve the quality of life for many. Indianapolis and its suburbs need to come into the 21st century or it will wither on the vine.
          • RE; Fishers Gal
            Fishers Gal, I could not possibly care less about the value of your home. But what I do care significantly about is improving this city and its surrounding areas. And one way to do that is through vastly improving its public transportation. And if improving this area through public transit means that the value of VERY FEW homes goes down, then so be it. Good of the many outweighs the good of the few.
            • Transit promotes development
              I would challenge some of the doubters to go to a city with a light rail system. As you ride the train, you will know when you are getting close to a station because you will see development and construction. Areas of the city that previously would have been "undesirable" to live in suddenly become the most desirable (and have new residential and retail) due to reliable, frequent, fast transit to downtown. This happened in Charlotte, NC, where everyone said that the light rail was going to be a failure. Now it has record ridership and there are market rate apartments, restaurants, retail shops, and offices going up next to transit stops as fast as they can build them. No doubt the city of Charlotte gains a lot of property tax revenue from the increased value of land around the transit stations. If the people of Fishers or whatever suburb do not want transit, fine. I say let the transit skip them and focus on underserved areas, and promote development in areas of the city that need it sorely. But if they will not help pay for transit that would benefit the city, we should not pay for any more publicly funded highways to their suburb. They can sit around stuck in traffic.
              • Wow we vote !!!
                So "We the people" get to have a say. You built the Stadium Field house and etc. without voter input. You and I know if we reject paying for transportation to Carmel the "Movers and Shakers" will do it anyway AND, why not light rail, as anyone knows that is the most efficient way to move people. Besides this is merely a way for business in "carmel" to get cheap help without letting the peons move there.
              • LOL
                You people with your "I'll never use it so why should I pay for it" mentality absolutely KILL me! Never in my life have I encountered such shortsighted and backward thinking people as so many in this community seem to be (and those people seem to be more common the further north you go).
              • Transit access
                Say what!? I am picturing yards signs in fishers protesting the light rail because a bunch of clueless suburbanites starting spreading a rumor about how transit access kills home values, and then everyone at the bake sale took that as truth. Please, do some research and then form your own opinion. Anyone, seriously, anyone, who truly takes unbiased research approach will find a heap of evidence pointing to the link between new/expanded transit and increased home values and new building permit growth.
              • AFP can stuff it
                "Job creators" (or upper management, which aren't them for sure) may be able to afford to drive their luxury cars to work, but the working stiffs that make the businesses profitable due to their willingness to work for low wages, can barely afford to come to work every day. The city needs mass transit badly. If I'm going to be stuck in rush hour traffic for half-an-hour to an hour, I would at least like to be able to read, or look for better jobs.
              • HOME VALUE + TRANSIT REBUTTAL
                Excuse me - Be educated. Light rail DOES NOT kill home value: http://hopkins.patch.com/groups/real-estate/p/study-light-rail-transit-access-boost-housing-prices
                • Response to Tim
                  I agree that this bill is ridiculous; why is mass transit being singled out as something that needs referendums to fund? The government funds plenty of projects without taxpayer input: Lucas Oil Stadium, the Convention Center, the Pacers, etc. Which is why Tim's comment makes perfect sense, but makes no sense at all. Of course in a perfect world our taxes would only fund what we use, but surely you realize your gas taxes pay for roads you don't drive on, or your property taxes pay for a cricket park you likely will never visit? At least with mass transit, there are positive externalities that will increase the quality of life in our city.
                • I agree with Tim
                  Why put the tax burden solely on individuals, many of whom will not use this service? Let the businesses who will take advantage of this service to transport their workers pay some of the freight on this. It's highly unlikely any of my family will ever use this service due to the nature and location of our jobs, so why should I once again be forced to pay for it? I'm just glad it will exclude light rail, which would kill my home's value.
                  • Okay
                    Okay, it is a deal if you start to pay for highways and people who don't use them don't have to pay. Last time I checkted it is 8 million a mile just to build a two lane road--over ten million a mile for four lanes, not to mentionmaintenance, policing, etc.
                  • AFP
                    Americans for Prosperity must mean Americans for the Rich. If folks don't see that funds soent for mass transit will come bacxk to them ten-fold, I doubt that they will ever get it. Businesses are rushing to cities / tregions with GREAT mass transit. THAT is what will bring prosperity - not reallocating taxes to the wealthy.
                  • Why does Bosma only support income tax increases?
                    Why should only individuals have to foot the bill for this? If businesses want workers to have mass transit to get to work, they should help pay for it? Also, why should I pay for something that I will never use? I live in Johnson County, however, I work in Bartholomew, so how exactly would this benefit me? If mass transit is such a good idea and so many will use it, why not make 100% of the funding come from user fares? That way it is fair, those who use it pay for it. More giving money away to businesses while hurting people who actually work for their money.

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                    1. The deductible is entirely paid by the POWER account. No one ever has to contribute more than $25/month into the POWER account and it is often less. The only cost not paid out of the POWER account is the ER copay ($8-25) for non-emergent use of the ER. And under HIP 2.0, if a member calls the toll-free, 24 hour nurse line, and the nurse tells them to go to the ER, the copay is waived. It's also waived if the member is admitted to the hospital. Honestly, although it is certainly not "free" - I think Indiana has created a decent plan for the currently uninsured. Also consider that if a member obtains preventive care, she can lower her monthly contribution for the next year. Non-profits may pay up to 75% of the contribution on behalf of the member, and the member's employer may pay up to 50% of the contribution.

                    2. I wonder if the governor could multi-task and talk to CMS about helping Indiana get our state based exchange going so Hoosiers don't lose subsidy if the court decision holds. One option I've seen is for states to contract with healthcare.gov. Or maybe Indiana isn't really interested in healthcare insurance coverage for Hoosiers.

                    3. So, how much did either of YOU contribute? HGH Thank you Mr. Ozdemir for your investments in this city and your contribution to the arts.

                    4. So heres brilliant planning for you...build a $30 M sports complex with tax dollars, yet send all the hotel tax revenue to Carmel and Fishers. Westfield will unlikely never see a payback but the hotel "centers" of Carmel and Fishers will get rich. Lousy strategy Andy Cook!

                    5. AlanB, this is how it works...A corporate welfare queen makes a tiny contribution to the arts and gets tons of positive media from outlets like the IBJ. In turn, they are more easily to get their 10s of millions of dollars of corporate welfare (ironically from the same people who are against welfare for humans).

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