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Marion County votes for higher taxes to pay for expanded transit

November 8, 2016

Marion County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly agreed to a tax increase to pay for an expanded transit system, which means it’s now the City-County Council’s turn to consider the issue.

With 99 percent of precincts in the county reporting, voters favored the measure 59 percent to 41 percent.

"We've spent 10 years working on this. I think its time has come," Mark Fisher, Indy Chamber's vice president of government relations and policy development, told IBJ.

The chamber was one of a number of groups that threw their voice—and significant money—behind the transit referendum.

The transit question, which was included on all Marion County ballots, asked voters whether they wanted to give the City-County Council the authority to impose an income tax of up to 0.25 percent25 cents per $100 of incometo help fund the Marion County Transit Plan. For a resident earning $50,000 a year, that 0.25 percent equals an additional $125 in annual income taxes.

The plan calls for $390 million in improvements aimed at strengthening IndyGo’s bus serviceextending hours of operation, increasing the number of bus routes that run at 15-minute frequencies, and running every route seven days a week. The transit tax also would fund the operational costs of three rapid-transit lines, which feature buses that run more often and make fewer stops.

The transit tax was backed by a wide range of supporters, including a group called Transit Drives Indy, whose members include the Indy Chamber, AARP Indiana, the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association, and others. The Indianapolis Congregation Network, or ICAN, a faith-based social action group, organized phone banks and other activities in support of the cause.

In late June, the Indy Chamber and the MIBOR Realtor Association formed a political action committee, Keep Indy Moving Forward, to help fund pro-referendum activities. According to a campaign finance report filed with the Indiana Secretary of State, as of Oct. 14 that committee had received $449,259 in donations and had spent $343,778.

But the referendum also had its opponents, including a group called Stop the Red Line. The Red Line is the name of the first phase of IndyGo’s proposed bus rapid transit project, which the group opposes. Red Line planning is already under way. About $75 million from a federal grant is expected to pay for most of the Red Line’s estimated $96 million construction. But the transit tax would help cover the Red Line’s estimated $6 million in annual operational costs.

Stop the Red Line has questioned whether the transit tax would enough revenue to accomplish everything the Marion County Transit Plan promises. It also raised the question about whether bus fares would increase.

It’s still uncertain, though, what will happen with the tax proposal.

The council could choose to approve the tax at the full 0.25 percent, or at a lower rate or decide not to pass any tax hike at all.

There’s no deadline for action, and the earliest the council could act will be early next year, the council’s legal counsel, Fred Biesecker, has said.

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