Deal on mass-transit legislation headed for vote

Key legislators say they have reached a compromise on a bill that gives local officials in several counties the authority to expand mass transit in parts of central Indiana.

Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, who authored Senate Bill 176, said she plans to sign the conference committee report on mass transit, which makes it eligible for votes in the House and Senate.

The bill will need a final vote in both chambers Thursday to move on to the governor’s office for final consideration.

The compromise language does not include a provision to establish a light-rail system or an increase in corporate taxes. However, the legislation would still allow for an increase in individual income taxes pending voter approval.

Both the Indiana House and Senate passed similar legislation to expand mass transit, but each version contained slightly different requirements, which resulted in the creation of a conference committee to iron out the critical details.

As passed by the Senate, the bill would also have authorized a corporate income tax increase that would fund about 10 percent of the total cost. That version of the bill also banned local governments from using the increased revenue to fund a light-rail system.

In the House, lawmakers dropped the ban on light rail and stripped out the corporate income-tax increase.

Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, described the decision to exclude light rail from the bill by the conference committee as “a major blow, in my view, to the idea of transit.”

“I’m very disappointed,” Delaney said. “This is supposed to be a local bill, where people can tax themselves locally for a system they want, and legislators decided what system we can’t have. I think it’s very unfortunate.”

Under the bill, the six counties – Marion, Madison, Johnson, Hancock, Hamilton, and Delaware – will have the ability to adopt a referendum to increase individual income taxes and begin negotiations with other counties to permit scheduled travel.

Although the legislation gives these counties the option to expand mass transit, they have to enter into agreements with each other separately. That’s because the bill doesn’t create a regional organization to regulate the transit system.

“This is a very clumsy way to do transit,” Delaney said. “The bill is designed to create a lot of negotiation and not a lot of appeal. But, I’m still going to vote for it because it’s better than nothing, which is what we’ve had.”

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