Mass transit bill headed to conference committee

The Indiana House passed legislation to authorize new taxes for an expanded bus system but the bill is headed to a conference committee where lawmakers will try to find a compromise on the issue.

Senate Bill 176 lets officials in Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Madison and Marion counties act to raise taxes – but only if voters say yes in a referendum.

That revenue could be used for a regional system with more buses and more routes.

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said a better mass-transit system is necessary to keep the Indianapolis metro area vibrant.

“It’s a good bill that’s for the next generation,” Soliday said.

But Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, said he opposes the bill because he believes it puts taxpayers at risk. He said too many big government projects run over budget and leave the public on the hook to pay more.

“This could end up costing taxpayers and rate payers millions of dollars,” he said.

The bill now returns to the Senate, which has already passed a different version of the legislation. The Senate plan included a corporate income tax to help fund the bus system as well as a ban on using the income tax revenue to pay for a light rail system.

The House took out both provisions. But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, said senators have already said they “can’t live” without the ban on light rail.

Lawmakers have until March 14 to find a compromise on the legislation or it will die for the year.

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