Legislation to permit a mass-transit expansion in central Indiana – if voters approve a tax hike – passed the House and Senate and is headed to Gov. Mike Pence for consideration.
“This is vital to the future growth of central Indiana and the metro area,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel. “This is a very important bill.”
The legislation authorizes officials in Marion, Madison, Johnson, Hancock, Hamilton, and Delaware counties to seek voter permission to raise income taxes to fund a regional bus system.
The goal is to add more buses and more routes to connect more areas of central Indiana.
But Senate Bill 176 also bans counties from adding light-rail train lines to their systems and requires officials to seek corporate support for the system.
Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said he’s disappointed the legislation doesn’t allow rail but he said the bill is worth supporting.
“This transit idea is a public service,” he said. “It is for the people.”
Estimated costs for the mass-transit system would be $1.3 billion, but that would drop significantly without light rail included.
The final legislation is a compromise between versions passed by the House and Senate. Most notably the Senate bill included a corporate tax increase that would have helped pay for the system.
Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Indianapolis, said he wanted the corporate tax included because businesses were among the biggest supporters of a transit expansion. But House leaders said they didn’t want to create a new local business tax.
Instead, the bill requires local officials to seek voluntary corporate donations and participation. And if counties don’t raise enough to cover at least 10 percent of the cost of the transit system, taxpayers would have to pick up the tab.
Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, said the idea that corporations would participate voluntarily is “laughable” because corporations are profit-driven.
“It’s not a sustainable income,” he said.
The House passed the bill 66-34 and the Senate approved it 32-16, although some of the votes were reluctant.
Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said the legislation takes Indiana “limping timidly into the future.” Still, she voted for the bill.
“When you’re hungry in Indiana, you have to take half a loaf,” she said, “Because you’ll never get a full loaf.”