Senate rolls out central Indiana mass-transit bill

Advocates for expanded mass transit in central Indiana will focus on a Senate bill that gives counties a way to generate more tax dollars to pay for better buses and more routes.

Senate Bill 176, authored by Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, would allow five counties and their officials to create their own mass-transit plans. It specifies Delaware, Hamilton, Johnson, Madison and Marion counties, but Miller said that other counties would be given the opportunity to adopt their own plans as well.

The bill requires 25 percent of the funding would come from public-transportation fares, 10 percent from taxes on larger companies, and the remaining 65 percent from local income taxes. Miller emphasized that voters would be informed – through referendums – of the use of tax dollars.

Miller believes the new bill is essential in reaching her goals for the state.

“My ultimate goal is to see high-quality transportation in metropolitan areas, particularly Indianapolis,” Miller said. “I want to make sure there is readily available, easy bus transportation and all mass transit is readily available.”

SB 176 replaces a mass-transit bill introduced in the House by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel. But Torr says the bill wasn’t necessarily meant to pass.

“The bill I filed in the House, we didn’t plan to move,” Torr said. “I filed it as a symbolic gesture.”

Torr, whose $1.3 billion plan included a different funding mechanism and the possibility of light rail lines, believes the new proposal is much different than his, and isn’t fond of the new taxes that could be put in place.

“The two plans are significantly different,” Torr said. “The tax structure is different. It includes a new corporate tax that makes up about 10 percent of funding, and I’m not particularly thrilled with that.”

But Torr isn’t completely disappointed in the new bill.

“It’s a good starting point,” he said.

One of the groups in support of the bill is the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. Vice President of Government Relations and Policy Development Mark Fisher said a solid mass transit is essential to the state’s job market and the livelihood of the cities.

“We have a system that’s doing it’s best with the resources given. But it’s an issue of job access for employees and it’s an issue of employers’ access to qualified employees,” Fisher said. “Mass transit will allow cities and towns to reinvent themselves.”

The bill was given to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee for review.

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