Senate committee approves mass transit funding bill

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An Indiana Senate committee has voted 7-2 in favor of a bill that could eventually lead to expanded mass transit in central Indiana.

The bill now heads to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, which has not yet scheduled a hearing on the matter. If it passes through that committee, the full Senate would still have to vote on it.

However, on Wednesday, Governor Mike Pence told reporters he felt that the mass transit options being considered were too costly, signaling a long fight ahead for supporters.

Tea Party activists came out this week against House Bill 1011, which would authorize Hamilton and Marion counties to hold voter referendums on whether to raise local income taxes to pay for most of the local portion of the proposed $1.3 billion proposal to expand bus service and possibly add a commuter rail line.

Earlier this year, Indy Connect Now, a coalition of community leaders and others, launched an ad campaign in support of House Bill 1011. Funding the plan is the big question.

Chase Downham, president of the Indiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity, tells The Indianapolis Star the group is concerned not just about the proposed tax increases but "the overall cost of such a proposal."

Republican state Rep. Jerry Torr of Carmel says he's not concerned that tea party opposition will derail the mass transit bill he's sponsoring.

In his State of the City speech last month, Mayor Greg Ballard called for improved mass transit, citing the need for the city to attract young professionals and to provide better choices for low-income residents.

Members of the faith community have also voiced support for better mass transit options.

Salt Lake City made the investment to mass transit back in the 1990s and now, according to city leaders there, more than half of the downtown employees regularly use mass transit. Four new rail lines are on the verge of coming online, including one running from the airport which will open next month.

Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce President Lane Beattie says he understands the arguments against it - that it will only benefit central Indiana and transit can't pay for itself. But Beattie says overcoming short-sightedness meant that the new transit system "has taken 1 1/2 lanes off of our freeways. The impact of that impacts every community in the state of Utah."

Legislation regarding mass transit has passed out of the Indiana House and is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Mass transit plan

Indy Connect rolled out a proposal for a central Indiana transit system earlier this year. See the plan here.

The "red line" route would run from Greenwood through Indianapolis to Carmel. The plan calls for "rapid transit" but leaves it open for bus or rail.

The "purple line" would run from Lafayette Square to Lawrence, mostly along 38th Street.

The "orange line" would run from Carmel to the University of Indianapolis via Fountain Square.

The "blue line" would run from the airport through Indianapolis out to Cumberland, and the "green line" would run from downtown Indianapolis northeast to Noblesville via Castleton Square.

Full text of House Bill 1011:

Public mass transportation. Specifies that a county or city council (other than the city-county council of Marion County) may elect by ordinance to provide revenue to a public transportation corporation from the city's or the county's distributive share of county adjusted gross income taxes, county option income taxes, or county economic development income taxes. Authorizes the establishment of a metropolitan transit district by specified eligible counties through local public questions and provides for an appointed board to govern the metropolitan transit district. Authorizes the metropolitan transit district to:

(1) construct or acquire any public transportation facility;

(2) provide public transportation service by operating public transportation facilities; and

(3) issue bonds and otherwise incur indebtedness. Authorizes the Indiana finance authority to issue bonds and use the proceeds to acquire any obligations issued by a metropolitan transit district.

Provides that in a county that has approved the local public question, an additional county economic development income tax (CEDIT) rate of not more than 0.3% may be imposed to pay the county's contribution to the funding of the metropolitan transit district. Specifies that the CEDIT rate may not exceed the recommended tax.