Mass-transit measure passes key House hurdle

A bill that could allow central Indiana counties to create a mass-transit system cleared the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday afternoon on a 20-2 vote.

The bill would allow local voters to decide whether to add 0.3 percent to local income tax rates to pay for the proposed $1.3 billion system, which would offer twice the current level of bus service, a rail line from Noblesville to downtown Indianapolis and several bus-rapid transit lines. It also would create a nine-county transit district.

The earliest possible date for ballot issues in Marion and Hamilton counties would be the 2014 general election. An amendment introduced Wednesday makes the referendum advisory-only, meaning local governments would have to sign off as well.

The two "no" votes came from Republican Reps. Eric Turner and Jeff Thompson, who want voteres to weigh in on a township-by-township basis, rather than a county-wide referendum.

Turner said his rural Hamilton County constituents, who are less likely to use the system, deserve a chance to opt out of paying for it.

Thompson, who represents Brownsburg and rural parts of Hendricks County, argued that it could give transit advocates a chance to add the more suburban parts of Hendricks County to the system sooner. The plan currently doesn't include Hendricks County.

Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown opted not to take a vote on the township-by-township amendment, giving transit advocates more time to consider the idea.

The House Roads and Transportation Committee advanced the measure last month.

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