Public transit advocates try again to get legislature to approve tax referendum to improve service

Idea will once again face strong opposition

INDIANAPOLIS - Transit advocates in central Indiana are making another push to improve and increase service, but they still face what they acknowledge will be an uphill battle in the General Assembly. 

The plan once again calls for referendum votes in Marion and Hamilton counties to increase local income taxes by 0.3 percent.

That would double bus service in Marion County while creating a new bus system in Hamilton County.

It would also buy new light rail and express transit service between downtown Indianapolis and Noblesville, with stops along the way in both counties.

There would also be express service to major commercial and employment centers.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said transit is needed to attract young professionals the area needs.

"We can no longer accept being the 12th largest city in the country with a bus system that ranks 89th in the nation," said Ballard. "Vibrant cities provide their residents with the infrastructure that helps them with their success. Talented young professionals want to live in cities that have strong transit systems."

Last year the plan derailed in the legislature after getting tangled in the Right To Work controversy.

Supporters acknowledge the problem.

"There were probably lots of reasons," said Central Indiana Corporate Partnership President Mark Miles. "One of them was that there were other weighty matters, controversial matters at the time, which really sort of sucked the attention out of the General Assembly and made it difficult to get folks focused on anything else."

Advocates now face anti-tax Republican super-majorities in both houses.

But one key lawmaker said there is a chance.

"We also have the issue of generally the gas tax revenues falling," said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. "So we have a problem with our highway, road and maintenance funding. This affects the overall transportation discussion, and I think mass transit is part of that discussion."

A major problem, though, for many Republicans is that so many of them have signed the Grover Norquist pledge to never raise taxes, and that pledge is interpreted to also include voter referendums for them to raise their own taxes.

The plan does not foresee immediate participation by the other six doughnut counties.

Organizers said leaders in those counties told them they are not interested.

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