Central Indiana transit vote approved overwhelmingly by House Ways and Means Committee

Same panel turned down transit measure last year

INDIANAPOLIS - The bill to allow voters to upgrade central Indiana's transit system and raise their county income tax cleared a major hurdle at the Statehouse Wednesday. 

The Ways and Means Committee approved the transit bill 20 to 2.

That's a huge turnaround from last year when the same committee rejected the measure.

The bill died last year, in part, because a Right To Work provision was added to the bill which lead even transit's main supporters, Marion County Democrats, to vote no.

But this time there was no similar distraction.

"We just want to make sure that we understand what the crux of the bill is about,” said Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis.  “Economic development.  It's about getting people to work.  The ministers embrace this concept for our city."

Supporters emphasized the need for improved transit to help people without cars get to work, school, medical care and shopping.

It would also attract the kind of young, high-tech and entrepreneurial talent needed the make the area grow.

Supporters said even people who never get on a bus or train would benefit.

"Some people say, 'Why should I pay this tax when I'll probably never, ever get on one of those buses?'  And the reason is because in many ways, we will all benefit whether we ever, whether you ever step on a bus or not," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel.

Transit advocates said the strong vote doesn't surprise them.

Now that it's passed two committees, it will go before the full House.

"I think it gives us good momentum to go to the House, the full House,” said Ron Gifford, Indy Connect Director.  “We clearly have to spend time with a lot of new members now, folks who haven't heard committee testimony and the like."

Before the final vote, the committee amended the bill to make the voter referenda planned for next year advisory only and to give the final say to the various county councils. 

But supporters said that's no problem. 

They believe that if voters endorse creating a transit authority and raising county income taxes that the councils will go along. 

The two committee members who voted against the bill represent districts outside Marion County, but within the metropolitan area.

They said their constituents wouldn't benefit much from a transit expansion but would still have to pay higher taxes.

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