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Committee Approves Bill To Expand Mass Transit

The bill would create a mass-transit system in Indianapolis.

A bill to expand mass transit is going to the full state Senate.

The latest transit proposal prohibits including light rail in the plan, but would let voters decide whether to authorize a new local income tax to expand bus service in and around Indianapolis.

Despite some concerns, it passed out of the Tax and Fiscal Policy committee today. Committee members voted 8-4 to send the bill to the Senate floor.

Before voting, they heard from those for and against expanding transit.

Westfield Mayor Andy Cook says it is needed to keep the area nationally competitive.

“This is no longer Naptown,” he said.  “We are a huge player now in the search for businesses and people to invest in this growing area.”

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard says better transit will remove obstacles of attracting businesses and families.

“Reliable and efficient public transportation is crucial for bringing in new talent into the city,” he says. “It’s crucial for building and maintaining our tax base, it is crucial for business of all sizes and people from all socioeconomic groups,” said Ballard.

Organizations, such as the Indiana Chamber also are backing it, but are concerned with having businesses pay for a portion of the bill – about $60 million a year.

“We are concerned about having skin in the game,” said Cameron Carter, Vice President of the Indiana Chamber. “With those reservations, at this stage in the process, we do support the bill. We would like to see it move forward.”

The bill calls for funding the system through rider fees and corporate and employment taxes. Chase Downham of Americans for Prosperity has reservation and says it could take hundreds of millions of dollars away from Hoosiers.

“I think what is in front of you today is less clear as to what it is actually funding,” Downham said during testimony. “It’s something that is punishing tax payers of all stripes.  At the end of the day, we really feel like this legislation is almost a tax increase in search of a mass transit proposal to fund.”

Tim Rushenberg of the Indiana Manufacturers Association testified after Downham and reiterated that he too thinks the funding model is flawed.

“We think this opens really a Pandora’s Box. Although this bill is limited now to just six counties here in the metro area, the possibility of this expanding the opportunity, the option, for taxing C corps statewide is now a possibility if this becomes law.  So, that concerns us.”

The system would include six counties, including Hancock which was added to the bill Tuesday.

If approved, residents would vote on an expansion.

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