INDIANAPOLIS - Funding for an expanded bus system serving the greater Indianapolis area has cleared both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly, also opening the door to the possibility of a light rail service throughout central Indiana.
The bill passed by the House Monday would allow Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Madison and Marion counties to raise taxes if voters approve the plan in a referendum.
The Senate plan includes a corporate income tax to help fund the bus system, while the House wants to give counties the option of developing a light rail system. The bills now go into negotiations and if lawmakers don't reach a compromise by March 14, the proposal dies for another year.
"I'm pretty confident at this point that we'll work out our differences," Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, who sponsored the bill in the House, told the Indianapolis Star. "I don't think we're that far off on anything."
The idea for a central Indiana mass transit system first surfaced several years ago, but the proposal has never made it this far in the legislative process.
Supporters insist a mass transit system would enhance the economy. Critics fret about the cost to taxpayers.
Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, said light rail systems elsewhere have experienced major cost overruns.
"This could end up costing taxpayers and rate payers millions of dollars," he told the Indianapolis Business Journal. "If we don't understand those risks, how can we expect the public to understand them?"
But Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said the decision about regional transportation should be left up to voters.
"Locals are going to have to decide," he said. "Locals are going to have to pay for it."
The House also approved a bill to expand northern Indiana's South Shore commuter rail line to Dyer, The Times reports. The bill closes a Lake County tax loophole and directs $4 million a year in savings to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to develop or improve public mass transit in Lake County. That money is expected to go toward a local match to obtain federal funds for the expansion of the line that runs between northern Indiana and Chicago.