Indiana lawmakers won't vote on bill to put transit referendum before voters

Supporters want Transit Authority created

INDIANAPOLIS - The transit referendum won't pass this session at the Statehouse, but advocates are now maneuvering to try to keep the proposal from being buried under another mass of studies.

It's certain now that state lawmakers will not pass a bill to allow a voter referendum on upgrading transit in central Indiana. 

Supporters of an expanded bus system are offering compromises on the transit proposal, but it's unclear if they'll be accepted.

The bill has been watered down to the point that it only provides for a legislative committee to study the issue this summer.

But mayors and business leaders from Indianapolis and the doughnut counties said there have been enough studies already. They want actual movement to create a Transit Authority and let voters decide on a tax to pay for an improved bus system.

"I'm very concerned. I mean, it's been studied to death," said Westfield Mayor Andy Cook. "It's something that we need for economic development throughout all of central Indiana to keep this great momentum that we have going."

John Thompson, chairman of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

"I'd rather not put it in a study committee. We'd like to make the deadline on the referendum and get it in for 2014 for a vote to get it to the voters, and I'm afraid putting it in a study committee could delay it," he said.

But transit supporters also acknowledged the political reality that there aren't enough votes from the Senate to pass what they want. 

On Tuesday they offered several compromises. One is to accept the study committee on the condition that it focuses its study on the actual plan offered by IndyConnect, and not engage in a wide-ranging generic study that they fear would just delay things.

Opponents, however, seem reluctant to accept that kind of limit.

"I think my question today to them is if they've studied this issue for 16 years and IndyGo is a bad system, why haven't they been able to improve it in 16 years?" asked Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis. "And they still have leeway on the tax to raise it if they need to make a greater and better bus system. And they haven't been able to accomplish that."

Transit supporters offered another compromise by volunteering to rule out any light-rail except on the existing Nickle Plate Road corridor to Noblesville. 

Light-rail has become an opposition flash-point. But it's uncertain if that will be accepted.

Work on the transit measure and all other key bills must be wrapped up by midnight Monday when the Legislature, by law, must adjourn.

Follow Norman Cox on Twitter: @normancox6

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