Central Indiana mass-transit bill dies in committee

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The Indiana House Ways and Means Committee defeated a bill Thursday that could have led to an expanded mass-transportation system in Indianapolis and surrounding counties.

The committee voted 11-10 against the legislation, which had been backed by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and other local officials.

House Bill 1073 would have allowed voter referendums in Marion and Hamilton counties for the purpose of raising taxes to fund an expanded bus and train system.

The plan, created by the Central Indiana Transit Task Force, calls for raising income taxes in Hamilton and Marion counties by 0.2 percent in order to double the bus service currently provided by Indy Go and to construct a commuter rail line from Noblesville to downtown Indianapolis. The initial plan would cost $1.3 billion over 10 years.

Last week, the bill’s author, Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said the bill didn’t have the support needed to pass, in part because it would have led to higher local taxes.

But at Thursday’s meeting, the controversy was more about provisions that would have said workers at a transportation authority couldn’t be forced to join a union and that the authority would not have been required to have common-wage hearings.

Espich acted to delete the common-wage provision but left the right-to-work language in place.

“I am here to try to act as much as I can in the spirit of compromise,” Espich said. “I will support the bill with the provision out or with the provision in. My preference is to have this provision in.”

Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, said the labor provisions in the bill that focused indirectly on employees’ right-to-work were “purely political.”

“I would vote against the bill if in fact that language remains in the bill,” Crawford said.

Rep. Winfield Moses, D-Fort Wayne, said the labor provisions led him to vote no as well.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, was also concerned about the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s opposition to the labor language. “To shove the labor language down their throats is insulting,” Pryor said.

Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, said “every district does what’s best for their area” and voted in favor of the bill.

Espich said he remains a strong mass-transit advocate and considers the issue to an important one.

“It’s an issue that deserves a shot,” Espich said. “This is a free world. I’ve had my chance and my say.”

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