Mass transit bill passes Senate Local Goverment Committee with 7-2 vote

Bill must still pass Tax and Fiscal Committee

INDIANAPOLIS - The bill to permit a referendum on mass transit expansion in central Indiana cleared another Statehouse hurdle Wednesday, but critics continued to blast the proposal, which still has a long way to go for enactment. 

Supporters reminded lawmakers that the state won't have to contribute anything. 

Central Indiana voters would decide in the referendum whether to fund the expansion of the bus system by increasing their local income taxes.

"We are not here to ask you for a dollar," said Mayor Andy Cook, R-Westfield. "We are not here to ask you to vote yes or no on mass transit. We are here asking you for the ability to ask our people if they would like to know more about mass transit."

But opponents questioned the certainty of the proposed .3 percent increase in local income taxes, since the transit authority's board would have the ability to incur debt.

"We'll be voting for a tax and really not knowing what it's going to be," said former Carmel Councilman John Acceturo.

Opponents brought in a critic from a national conservative think tank, who said transit projects always run over budget, especially when they include rail elements.

"Even bus transit will end up costing more than projected," said Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute. "And that's because the plan assumes that you'll be able to get large grants, capital grants from the federal government. Those capital grants always come with lots of strings attached."

But supporters said just because other cities have blown it doesn't mean Indianapolis, which has a reputation for responsible building, should hold back.

"Other communities have had cost overruns on stadiums, sports arenas and the like," IndyConnect Director Ron Gifford said. "Does that mean Indianapolis shouldn't have built Bankers Life Fieldhouse or Lucas Oil Stadium, both of which were built on time and on budget?"

The bill passed the Senate Local Government Committee 7-2, but it will also have to pass the Tax and Fiscal Committee before it can go to the full Senate, and that could be a tougher sell. 

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