Indiana Senate passes bill to strip IndyGo funding, prevent rapid bus line expansion

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The Indiana Senate on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that would strip funding for local public transportation and hinder IndyGo’s ability to pursue its planned expansion of bus rapid-transit lines.

Senate Bill 141, authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, would withhold 10% of local income tax revenue from IndyGo until it meets a private fundraising threshold established in a 2014 law. It also would prevent IndyGo from moving forward with expansion projects, like the Blue and Purple lines, until it secures private funding.

The Senate voted 32-17 on the legislation, with seven Republicans joining Democrats in opposing it. The bill heads to the House for consideration.

The 2014 law authorized a 0.25-percentage-point increase in the city’s income tax rate to fund IndyGo operations and new services—such as the Red Line—with approval from the City-County Council and Marion County voters. The law also said that IndyGo would be required to provide a 10% match of that new income tax revenue, raised only from sources that were not fares or taxes.

The income tax increase went into effect in October 2017 and is generating roughly $60 million per year, which means IndyGo should be raising about $6 million in private donations annually to be in compliance.

IndyGo officials maintain they have met that requirement through federal grants the agency has received. But Freeman argued that federal grants are funded by tax revenue, so they cannot count toward the fundraising requirement, and he wants to hold IndyGo accountable.

“That was the deal,” Freeman said. “Nothing’s changed.”

The law says the revenue raised can’t be from “taxes or fares” but does not specifically say “private donations.” SB 141 would clarify that it can’t be raised from taxes, fares or state and federal funds.

Freeman also asked Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita for an opinion on whether federal grants should be considered tax dollars, and Rokita confirmed for him that federal grants should not count toward IndyGo’s fundraising requirement, because those grants are public tax dollars.

IndyGo officials have also said that more than $177 million in federal funding dedicated for the Blue and Purple lines could be in jeopardy if the bill becomes law because lack of funding could cause the agency to have to delay and/or redesign the projects.

Freeman said he believes the public was misled on the Blue Line, because initially it would not have involved dedicated lanes, and he wants lawmakers to take action now to prevent the agency from moving forward on the line.

The Blue Line would travel along Washington Street on the west side of the city in dedicated lanes and would connect to the Indianapolis International Airport.

A proposal from 2012 said the Blue Line could use shared lines, but the Federal Transit Administration in 2014 changed its guidelines for the project and required that 50% of the route include dedicated lanes in order for it to receive federal funding.

IndyGo says if the line was redesigned without dedicated lanes, it would not be eligible for federal funding.

But Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, said he believes there are other federal funding options available for a shared-lane project. Young, who represents a district the Blue Line would run through, said his constituents support public transit, but do not want dedicated lanes for it.

Freeman said removing travel lanes for vehicles on Washington Street would be a “nightmare.”

Freeman and Young also criticized the existing Red Line, which opened in September 2019, for not working well.

“I don’t know anything about running a bus system, but I could probably do the same job that they could,” Young said. “Not very good.”

IndyGo officials have argued that the Red Line hasn’t had an opportunity to operate under normal circumstances, though, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said the Blue Line is needed for other infrastructure improvements, such as sidewalks and drainage, along that corridor.

“We need to address the flooding issues that happen on Washington Street, and then we need to increase the circulation to businesses that are located on Washington Street,” Breaux said. “So, this bill not only provides the basic need of transportation services but it also helps with the infrastructure needs of that area.”

Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said she thinks the bill would make it even harder for residents without vehicles to have transportation for basic services like going to the grocery store.

“Limiting transit contributes to hunger and poverty,” Yoder said. “This legislation seems to be cruel and ill-timed, to say the least.”

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37 thoughts on “Indiana Senate passes bill to strip IndyGo funding, prevent rapid bus line expansion

  1. It’s too bad that Indiana Republicans care about soccer stadium funding rules more than bus lines. Good thing for the Indy Eleven than they’ve got high-powered donors; if the Legislature realized the amount of “those” people who like soccer, they’d never change the rules to help them get their stadium done.

  2. The disdain the Indiana GOP has for the poor and working poor is repugnant. Expanded access to transit has a direct impact on the life trajectories of our underserved populations. When you have access to work, healthcare, food security, and housing your life is improved.

    1. Is it possible that the BRT Line is far more a wish-fulfillment among the progressive wing of Indy Dems than an actual good service to the poor? Let’s keep in mind that the Red Line only skims a few low income neighborhoods while aligning strongly with some of the poshest old-money areas of the north side.

      Is there any great evidence that the lion’s share of the users were poor and working poor? Or were they mostly people who could keep their Subarus at home and show how wonderful they were by supporting transit? I’m not saying I’m accurate here, but it’s likely I’m not entirely off base either.

      Being painfully honest, the majority of Indy’s “underserved populations” still own cars. It’s just not that expensive to own a car in Indy, so a high share of the working poor have them too.

    2. Voters in Indianapolis voted for expanded bus service.

      If voters were not happy with how IndyGo was doing, and did not want three new bus lines, they could have voted for candidates would would have stopped the bus expansion in 2019. They doubled down on candidates supportive of expanding the bus service.

      The GOP is complicit in voter nullification.

    3. Besides, what is Freeman’s end game?

      If he doesn’t like bus service, just legislate it out of existence. Don’t come up with all this nonsense about raising charitable donations. That’s like saying your kid’s basketball team can’t play this Saturday unless one of the parents hit 40 free throws in a row before the game starts. If they miss one, too bad, come back next week and maybe don’t pick Billy’s dad.

      Let’s say the Lilly endowment and other local groups decide to stick it to Freeman and write that six million dollar check. That’s $6 million less for other local charities, all because a guy who’s too scared to run for mayor thinks its a great idea for a public service to raise $6 million a year in charitable donations. That’s an insanely large amount of money for a bus service and it’s literally done nowhere else.

    1. A boondoggle is turning down nine figures of money that will fix the roads that EVERYONE used because of bus lanes. Last time I checked, we don’t have the funds to keep our roads properly paved… any infusion of resources is worth it.

    2. Ted K – they also have been enhancing standard bus routes since the Red Line was rolled out. It has always been part of the Marion County Transit Plan that once the BRT was established, the routes would be enhanced to help serve and cross the BRT line to efficiently move more people. I can go and pull some of the headlines from various media sources over the past 1.5 years that show them changing, modifying, and adjusting routes if you’d like….or you can just come once, complain, spew some information off that isn’t entirely accurate and then bounce.

  3. It’s just baffling that a state legislature is “requiring” private funding for a city run public service. Also, the fact that the lead legislator said, “I don’t know anything about running a bus system”, says a lot.

    1. Mike Young doesn’t know a lot about most anything, but it doesn’t stop him from staying in office.

    2. Its worth noting they are also flushing the following infrastructure down the drain (on just the blueline).

      • Nearly 124,000 TONS of HMA for roadway rehabilitation
      • Over 8 Miles new and rehabbed sidewalk
      • Nearly 500 sidewalk ramps brought to ADA compliance
      • Almost 2 Miles of Multi-Use path
      • Over 1000 new a replacement drainage structures
      • Over 60,000 LFT of new drainage pipe

    3. And Charlie, Freeman’s willing to flush all that for the 8/10 a mile of the Blue Line that’s in his district.

      8/10 of one mile in a 24 mile bus line.

    1. Judging from the general transit ridership in Indianapolis, and really almost everywhere in the United States, most Democrats don’t ride buses either. They just like using ballot initiatives to take the huge portions of the commonweal to fund them while they remain 95% vacant, then lecturing people about it who dare question whether this is a good initiative or sensible use of taxpayer money. (“You don’t care about the poor!”) Judging from how prevalent “the poor” is in most blue jurisdictions, is it really clear that the Dems care about them or that they simply placate poverty and use their amazing PR infrastructure to shield how ineffectual their initiatives have been? I say this all while fundamentally agreeing with Joe B that the GOP has made itself (at least for now) mostly unelectable in urban America, for its tonedeafness.

      I support the Red Line and have used it a handful of times. It was a better initiative than many previously proposed alternatives precisely because it chose a path that could galvanize support among two socioeconomically disparate groups: the urban poor south of 38th Street and the urban elite north of it. That doesn’t stop me from seeing the perspective of the naysayers and recognizing that the catastrophic economic downturn caused by the government forcing a third of the population to stop working does require a shift in priorities, including public funding. Or that a mayor whose head-in-the-clouds approach toward the rampant crime and downtown squalor that has taken place under his term is going compel the 87% of the state’s population who doesn’t live in Indy to question whether the city is propping up the rest of the state or trying to drag it down with them.

      Bear in mind, Chicago contributes a disproportionate amount of economic activity within Illinois. It is the main reason wages in Illinois are up to 15-20% higher than Indiana. But the Windy City–and the political culture it instigates–is also the main reason Illinois struggles to keep its small and medium businesses from jumping the border, why Illinois consistently sends its highest ranking politicians to prison, and why the state as a whole is one of just a few that is losing population. Being dominated by a single big city is a double-edged sword.

    2. This has nothing to do with public funding or ridership. It has a lot to do with two legislators who are against the idea of bus only lanes.

      It’s simple – we only get the funding if we have bus only lanes.

      Freeman has jeopardized almost $180 million dollars of FEDERAL funding from being spent in Indianapolis, where it would improve the Indianapolis infrastructure and could lead to jobs for Indiana residents.

      Your taxes won’t go down one bit if this bill passes. But your roads will continue to be in terrible shape. This is as monumentally dumb as the time Indianapolis passed on federal financial assistance to fix our sewers … only for us to be required to do it later, without the federal help…

    3. American D for mayor of Indy. Well said and thought out. Run as an independent and you will win by a landslide with your matter of fact views!

    1. Really? Can he let it sit on his desk and veto it when the legislature is 1 day away from leaving for the year?

    2. Unfortunately INGov does not have a “pocket veto”. If Holcomb doesn’t sign or veto a bill, it becomes law without his signature.

  4. IndyGo used questionable business and political practices to push through their agenda with the Redline. IndyGo losing its funding is a direct result of its actions. They lied to the public and elected officials. The real surprising part is no one has been charged with corruption.

    1. No surprise because no corruption exists.
      What were the questionable business practices?
      The Red Line is not and agenda item, it’s a BRT project.
      What were the lies?

      The Red Line was not (even) open for one solid year under normal operating conditions. Any new project require 18 to 24 months for ridership stabilization – it’s a fact. Freeways were not completely full when they opened. The pandemic has upended mobility and tripmaking throughout the city and nation. IndyGo ridership changes due to the pandemic mirrors those of cities nationwide.

      I encourage you to read the project application that was approved by the Federal Transit Administration. Also, read the Documented Categorical Exclusion. The FTA process to approve transit project is competitive and requires and extensive set of criteria to be met. FTA is the funding agency and the transit experts, not the Indiana Legislature or those who penned this bill. None have any transit experience or expertise, and no understanding of transit funding.

      This a vindictive bill. Its purposed is the thwart the will of the people who passed by 59.4% a tax to improve transit.The items being implemented were described clearly in the Marion Country Transit plan and the referendum documentation and were discussed the many public meetings.  

      Fundraising does not equate to accountability. In fact, it is unrelated to transit. IndyGo is a transit agency and should not be required to solicit funds, period.

      This is a bad bill. Unprecedented. Again, Indiana becomes a national laughingstock of a city with this tomfoolery.

      No one questions the the need for the bill. That’s the issue. I reiterate, it’s a bad bill, it’s a poorly written bill, it’s unnecessary, it’s unclear. The bill does absolutely nothing to effect improved transportation. Vindictive bills are unethical.

      Where does the bill author live and what % in that area voted for the transit tax referendum. Was the bill penned with prejudice? Whose website contained the following verbiage:

      “The legislation passed today will assure IndyGo follows the law and isn’t continually pushing its finances onto the taxpayer.With this bill, IndyGo will now be required to raise these funds before any new lines can be constructed and much needed accountability is created for the private, unelected and unaccountable board in charge of IndyGo.”

      – “its finances”  . . .  IndyGo is a public agency, not a private company

      – obviously the board structure is not appreciated, but why attack the agency, resident, and users

      Actually, an elected board would be much worse. One and review studies regarding elected vs. appointed boards of transit agencies across the nation for structure. By the way, IndyGo Board is not private. Demand info; it’s available.

      SB 141 is an egregious example of bad government, a gross misuse of power. Why not just fine IndyGo instead of stopping improvements sorely needed 40 years ago that finally were coming to fruition. So now IndyGo will lose $177 million in federal grant (yes, grant; not loan) monies for an opportunity cost of $6 million that must be raised through fundraising. And, IndyGo will have to repay the $77 million grant received for the Red Line if the State withholds operating money.

      Indiana has perhaps not cleared its unsavory history of questionable governance in the Statehouse.

  5. First, the General assembly had ZERO business getting involved in dictating local bus routes. This is especially embarrassing during a pandemic when the GA should be focused on the state’s economy and dealing with the coronavirus. Indiana has the most self-serving, grandstanding and corrupt state legislature in the nation. Second, this bill could die just like it did last year. It made it just about as far last year before it was killed. Third, I believe Holcomb will veto to it should it get to his desk. He at least has a good head on his shoulders and knows state meddling and partisan nonsense when he sees it. Finally, I return to my first point, the GA members need to get out of local affairs and do their jobs—-and the voters need to hold them accountable for wasting time and resources grandstanding instead of helping everyday Hoosiers, especially voters outside of Marion County must wonder what the heck the GA is doing.

    1. They do unless they lose power. Then they change the rules to get their power back. Fort Wayne better watch out if they elect a Democratic city council next time too.

    2. They do – they are limiting what government can do.

      They think the future of transit is autonomous cars (good luck with that one, the last 1% is where all the complexity is) and more Uber drivers so poorly paid that they’re on government assistance to make ends meet. We shouldn’t invest in things now because they might be obsolete in 30 years.

      The Indiana GOP that had the vision and cojones to build a football stadium in Indianapolis when we had no team? I miss that GOP.

  6. The GOP super majorities in the legislature have become increasingly authoritarian and anti-local control. They no longer believe that government closest to the people is the best.

    Indianapolis is the biggest economic engine in the state of Indiana, but the State Legislature seems intent on killing the goose laying the golden eggs. They hate welfare assistance but also work to deny poor people the means to get to work and to grow the economy. It’s sad and self-defeating.

  7. There’s plenty of fair criticisms to level at IndyGo’s (and Indy DPW’s) operations, planning and design, BUT this micro-management by the legislature is ridiculous. INDOT relinquished control of Washington St inside of I-465 to the City about 15 years ago. That leaves it up to the City to determine how to design the street. The citizens of Indy have made it pretty clear that they’d like better transit service along with curbs, sidewalks, and storm sewers, which has long been considered basic infrastructure in most other cities. Please stop embarrassing Indiana.

  8. Joe B and others defending the expanded bus service. If the Red Line was the “test” for mass transit in Indianapolis, then the test failed. Voters may have voted to support this failure with tax dollars…..but the true measure of this initiative is the ridership numbers and revenue generated. While I understand that inner-city mass transit never generates a business profit, the losses generated by a bus line that the public voted to support has been a total failure. Throw in the fact that the pandemic will now reduce the need for commuting to work and the simple economics (supply and demand) should lead government to the conclusion that we have more pressing needs.

    1. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that the venn diagram of people who won’t have to commute to work in the future and the folks who ride IndyGo … isn’t huge.

      If you want people to get back to work and off public assistance, to get them downtown to the service jobs or out to the airport area for the distribution jobs, part of the equation is actually getting them to the job site. Mass transit will never be a “profit center” but it’s no more wasteful than spending tons of money to tear up downtown with interstates so someone who lives 45 minutes from downtown doesn’t have to wait in downtown traffic an extra 90 seconds.

      I’m willing to have the discussion about bus rapid transit being a failure and pulling the plug after building all the lines and run them for a few years post pandemic. Right now, the Republican strategy appears to be to not let IndyGo do what they feel they need to grow and serve more people … then bash them for not having more riders. If they want to run the bus system, just pass another of their beloved laws and state that all bus service is run by the Indiana General Assembly.

      And based on the nonsense coming out of the Statehouse this year, we don’t have more pressing needs other than telling people what NOT to do, instead of what to do.

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