INDIANAPOLIS — A bill that could have threatened future funding for mass transit in Indianapolis is dead for the current legislative session, though portions of it could possibly be brought back before lawmakers adjourn.
The bill (SB 141) had already passed the state Senate and received a hearing in March in the House Roads and Transportation Committee. But that committee does not have another meeting scheduled this week, and bills must be passed out of committee no later than Thursday to remain alive during the session.
The legislation targeted a large portion of IndyGo's funding, specifically saying that a rule would be enforced on how Marion County's transit system could use taxpayer-funded sources. It would require Indygo to raise 10% of the operational costs of new projects -- such as the proposed Purple and Blue rapid transit lines -- from sources other than taxes and fares.
The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Aaron Freeman (R, Indianapolis), said that state and federal money designated for transit projects should be counted as "taxes" in that formula. The rule was part of a measure passed in 2014 that allowed Marion County to hold a referendum in 2016 that led to a local income tax increase to fund an expansion in public transportation.
IndyGo says it is complying with the funding formula as the law was written, and says any changes to the formula could cost the city tens of millions of dollars in federal funding, putting the new rapid transit lines at risk. IndyGo has already completed the Red Line that runs from Broad Ripple south to the University of Indianapolis campus.
The Purple Line from Indy to Lawrence is scheduled to open in 2023, while the Blue Line is set to run along Washington Street from Cumberland to Indianapolis International Airport. The Blue Line is scheduled to start service in 2025.
Sen. Freeman says he is particularly opposed to the Blue Line, because part of it is within his district. The project would reduce traffic on much of Washington Street to one lane in either direction, and Freeman says he is concerned about the regular commute slowing to a crawl.
But the bill is also one of several in which the Republican-dominated General Assembly has tried to assert control over Indianapolis, which is controlled by Democrats. IndyGo leaders have said they are carrying out the wishes of Marion County voters who approved the transit referendum. The state Democratic Party has also criticized Freeman, accusing him of targeting public transit because he has received campaign contributions from area car dealers.
While SB 141 is dead, parts of the bill could still be inserted in other legislation before the end of the session. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn no later than April 29, though Republican leaders have said they are trying to finish their work one week prior to that deadline.
IndyGo released the following statement:
"We are grateful that Chairman Pressel and the House Committee on Roads and Transportation has decided to not have another hearing on Senate Bill 141. This bill has been a distraction as we have been focused on maintaining transit service and keeping our riders and employees safe throughout the pandemic, as well as advancing our major projects. Our next priorities include bidding out the Purple Line— which has already been delayed due to the uncertainty around Senate Bill 141– and developing a phased process for implementing local route improvements. We want to thank all of the civic and grassroots organizations that continue to work together to ensure transit expansion in our city."