Mass transit bill clears Senate in 28-20 vote

February 4, 2014 | FOX 59 | link to article

INDIANAPOLIS (Feb. 4, 2014) – A bill to expand mass transit in central Indiana cleared another hurdle Tuesday.

Senate Bill 176 passed in a 28-20 vote on the final day of the session’s first half. The bill will now move to the House, where its passage remains uncertain.

A Senate committee cleared the measure in an 8-4 vote a week ago. That committee also added a provision that would prevent a light rail system from being part of the project. During a hearing preceding that vote, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Westfield Mayor Andy Cook were among those who spoke in support of the bill.

The measure would allow several central Indiana counties to impose a county income tax or a county employment tax to expand public transportation. Voters in those counties—Delaware, Hamilton, Johnson, Madison and Marion—would have to approve the plan. The bill also mandates that 25 percent of operating costs would come from fares.

Still others say the burden shouldn’t fall on taxpayers.

“Don’t make me and other taxpayers pay for your fun ride down here,” said Sen. Michael Young, R-Speedway.  “I pay enough in taxes, if it works, then it ought to be able to pay for itself.”

“I think most everyone recognizes that this is our capital city and our transportation system is inadequate,” said Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author.

“We need more transit, we need more options for people so they can get to the jobs they need to get to,” said transit supporter Kent Mitchell. “We hope the House follows suit.”

But will they?

“I think it’s going to need some work,” said House speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “I’m not sure the advocates here in the House are thrilled with the cauldron of tax measures that’s been brewed up, so we’ll have to look at that strongly.”

“There’s a lot of broad agreement on the value of transit,” said House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. “It always comes down to the details.”

Lawmakers amended the bill last week to add Hancock County.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard issued the following statement after the vote:

“I am pleased to see this legislation move forward. Convenient and reliable transportation is critical to attracting new residents and is crucial to the future growth of Central Indiana. We have been nationally recognized over the last few years as a great place to live, work and raise a family. A modern, regional mass transit system is the next step to drive Central Indiana forward as an economic engine for our state.”

Michael Huber, president and CEO of  Indy Chamber also released a statement supporting expansion of Indiana’s mass transit system:

“We are encouraged the Indiana Senate has supported our efforts to give local elected officials and citizens the opportunity to invest in the expansion of our regional transit system. As we have long said, this measure is essential for the Indianapolis region to provide access to jobs and healthcare and recruit talented workers. The Indy Chamber will remain steadfast in its mission to see this measure through the House and ultimately, to our local communities.”