HB1011 passes Senate Tax Committee 12-0

IndyGo bus passing the Statehouse (image credit: Curt Ailes)
IndyGo bus passing the Statehouse (image credit: Curt Ailes)

HB1011 was heard in the Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy committee on Tuesday, April 2nd. Before any lobbying could begin, the chairman offered an amendment which was seconded and taken up. The amendment effectively turned the bill, which would authorize a referendum in 2014 for a 0.3% income tax levy dedicated to transit, into a summer study committee.

A number of senators on the panel claimed that they did not have the time to study the language of the bill and were thus not educated enough to vote on such a contentious issue. Taken at their word, the summer study committee would include members of the Marion and Hamilton County state legislative community. In this study, they would educate themselves on the Indy Connect study, the language of this bill, and a new bill would have to work its way through the statehouse next session.

After the amendment was taken into the bill, and testimony given for and against including nationally renowned transit opponent Randall O’Toole and his infamous wolf on the train tracks presentation, the bill passed 12-0. Effectively, the legislation is still alive. If it passes the full senate vote, which could come as soon as next week, it will be sent to a conference committee where members of the House (which passed a much more robust version of the bill) and members of the Senate will meet and hammer out the bill to send to the Governor. There is the possibility that in the next few weeks, as this happens, that the bill could become live again.

There are a few key take-aways from this complex process. First, the bill is still alive and thus, able to be passed, amended, etc whether in Senate, or conference committee. Second, educating members of the Senate about the planning and engineering already conducted by the Indy Connect team is possible before this legislative session ends. Furthermore, the original bill had aimed for a 2014 referendum. Should this go to summer study committee, it is possible to maintain that timing.

Seattle Light Rail (image credit: Stephen De Vight)
Seattle Light Rail (image credit: Stephen De Vight)

At this point in the process, it is easy to feel deflated. The senate effectively yanked the e-brake on a bill that has been moving fairly swiftly and with much bi-partisan support. However, and as we have pointed out here multiple times, educating people (or failing to) has stalled things. Case in point; in listening to the post hearing testimony, one Senator was talking about private partnerships for funding transit and claimed,

“…. Seattle used to have a light rail. They took it away and implemented a van pool and saved about a billion dollars.”

Those of you with even a passing interest in public transit know this to be a fallacy. Seattle has 1 rail line, a couple streetcar lines, and many more of each in the planning and construction phase. I know of no nationally renowned van pool from Seattle (although a betting man would say it’s available). Furthermore, Indianapolis already has a van pool (its called Commuter Connect, check it out) which should tell you all you need to know about this Senator’s feelings on transit, educated or not. A good friend put it another way, “Maybe we ought to replace our fire department with a bucket.”

In conclusion, keep the pressure on your Senators. Let them know that these actions cannot stand. I called my Senator, also a member of the tax & fiscal policy committee, the day after to let him know my disappointment with the way things went. There is still time in this session to turn the tide and many people are working hard to ensure we stay on the same track as the original bill

Comments 26

  • Maddening. Maybe we need to curate field trips for them to try that mimic what many residents have to navigate in order to just live their lives. Seems like they still deny the real needs of real people and write off transit as some cool amenity idea.

    And I keep thinking I’ve seen the following, but can’t find it anywhere. Did some transit group create a site where you could enter some of the most frequent trips you make by car and then it would tell you the transit options that would be available under the proposed routes and how much time or money it could save you (like Google maps does).

    If that doesn’t exist, it might be a simple way to engage people who right now are saying “I won’t use better mass transit.”

  • Another case combining analysis paralysis and inept lobbying. Last year, Gov. Daniels mentioned the need for transit in his State of the State address. After the bill died, Mark Miles (who’s since gone on to greener pastures at IMS) said the IndyConnect team would take the cue and educate elected officials over the course of the year. Apparently they didn’t educate enough. Even though the House passed the bill w/ bi-partisan support, it’s now languishing in the Senate which is asking for more study! IndyGo & ICAT have done a great job advocating. Same cannot be said for Ehren Bingaman and Ron Gifford @ IndyConnect. If those 2 can’t this done for the 2nd year in a row, they should be fired and replaced by people who can. But with an election year next year, don’t count on it. As Curt says, now’s the time to keep the pressure on to get it accomplished.

    • I completely agree that there has been some ineptitude in regards to educating members of the Senate. The leadership of IndyConnect should be looked at for this failure.

    • I don’t think it is fair to call for the firing of Ehren and Ron, who have been good evangelists for this process. I just listened to Ron Gifford on WIBC, and he had to keep shooting down misinformation and mistrust from the public. I think there is a lot of that same sentiment within the Indiana Senate as well.

      • I wonder how much Mr. Bingaman has been paid by the public in the five or six years he’s been working on bringing us improved regional transit. Obviously, the legislators who aren’t even willing to let Marion and Hamilton counties make a decision about improving their transit are most to blame. However, isn’t it fair to question the efforts and results from the man who was brought in to help us make this happen?

  • Beating around the bush time after time. They better educate themselves. Also their reasoning’s must be clear and logical! Logical! Meaning their facts are indeed facts and not falsified.

  • I lived in Seattle for 4 years up until about 5 years ago, so I saw the construction of their first light rail line. It is still fully operational and certainly hasn’t been shutdown by any means. They also have van pools which are very successful, but certainly didn’t replace any rail line.

    At the Building Heartland Cities on Tuesday, former Indy mayor Bill Hudnut pointed out that he initiated transit study in 1980. Here we are 33 years later, STILL doing study. Can you imagine how nice our transit system would be if we had just spent all the study money on actual transit? This is insane.

  • As much as I respect the passion of the pro-transit crowd, I’m not willing to vote for an income tax increase on struggling workers. Likewise, I’m against allowing those who pay no income taxes to vote on tax increases for the rest. Those who wish to expand mass transit need to find alternative funding sources instead of adding an extra burden onto an already-strained working class. Perhaps collect the tens of millions of dollars in “loans” given to the Pacers or repeal tax giveaways to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Perhaps voluntary contributions from the pro-transit crowd? Perhaps the Indiana Republican and Democrat party can donate raised campaign cash? There’s plenty of money out there to raise without further confiscation of workers’ hard-earned pay. More creative fundraising is needed for this project.

    • I choose to see it another way. The current system is set up to reward roadways. Say we want to construct a new road, “reduce congestion” or one of any of the dozens of forms that road construction comes in. We have to plan it the same way transit is planned by doing the environmental work, alerting folks, etc. However, when the road is built, the local govt only has to come up with 20% of the money. The other 80% comes from federal formulas.

      In essence, what is happening is that MY hard earned tax dollars are sent everywhere to assist with the 80% share of a road being built, which I am not using, nor want to use.

      On top of that, you might say that we already pay that fee with gasoline taxes, registration fees, etc. But you would be wrong. The federal fund has benefited from multiple infusions from the general fund over the year. IE: not a user fee.

      In the case of the transit tax, I agree that there will be people who do not use it, that may be paying for it. That may be viewed as “unfair”. But when that investment returns things such as continued in-migration, more income in user wallets, and the dozens of other returns on investment that come from transit use, which benefit the region as a whole, we all benefit.

      Of course, that is my perspective only.

    • Would you agree that we should atleast have a referendum on this? Also, not to be disrespectful, but your thoughts on picking and choosing who gets to vote on things is pretty scary.

      • No, I do not agree a referendum should be allowed simply because those who pay no income taxes would be allowed to vote on raising taxes on the rest. If I HAD to vote, I would vote no. And by characterizing me as “scary”, you are being disrespectful both to me and to the opportunity for interested parties to have a discussion free of personal attacks.

        In my first post, I stressed alternative fundraising instead of further burdening the working class. Curt, respectfully, referenced the “current system” in his reply. Perhaps we need to look outside the framework of the current system and look at alternative ways of making quality and expanded mass transit a reality. Generally speaking, I would be in favor of giving the private market partial ownership of the system while partnering with the public sector, kind of like we did with the parking meters. This would involve charging higher user fees to higher-income users and to those professionals who say they stay away only because we don’t have a quality mass transit system, while giving low income users publicly-financed debit cards to be used for transit. Long-term maintenance costs would be the private sector’s responsibility, while under the supervision of public safety inspectors.

        It’s a very general approach to start, but why not be innovative and think outside the box? It would be refreshing to see our city take this approach instead of the tired “current system” which overburdens the working class. A thriving working class with more money is in everyone’s best interest.

    • Some thoughts on this comment from Greg:
      #1) Everyone pays taxes. The idea that people don’t pay taxes is a myth, so please don’t repeat it and turn it into a lie. Isolating income tax as a special requirement for voting rights doesn’t make any sense, as it would be immediately struck down as unconstitutional.

      #2) I pay a lot of taxes. So do many transit supporters in Indiana. We deserve the right to vote on community investments. That’s kind of the point of democracy. Preventing people from voting is kind of a bad thing.

      #3) The issue being discussed is a referendum on a funding mechanism for a regional transportation system. Comments that aren’t germane to this issue are not germane to this issue.

      #4) No court has ever concluded that taxes are confiscation of property. They are just taxes. We welcome public participation, but please limit your comments to the world of political reality.

  • arking meters, airports, toll roads and parking garages can typically be “paid for” by users, so they might be good candidates for bonds financed by income streams. But police, fire, jails, streets, storm sewers, snowplows, K-12 education and public transportation systems are all examples of things (public goods) that are necessarily financed by taxes because they are “system” services where cost can’t be charged off in a straightforward way to users. Taxes pay for them.

    There are only three kinds of taxes: taxes on income, taxes on assets (i.e. property tax, personal property tax, inheritance tax), and taxes on spending (i.e. sales, ticket, and excise taxes). One, or a combination, has to pay for public goods.

    In every case, the ability of an Indiana municipality to tax…even the state’s largest municipality, economic driver, and massive economic donor to the rest of the state…is limited and subject to the control of the state constitution or the General Assembly. HB1011 is permissive: it would allow Marion County to have a voter referendum on one part of its tax structure.

    What I take from Greg’s comment above is that he feels threatened by a referendum because he somehow thinks a majority of Marion County voters don’t pay city or state income tax…which is absolutely not true. Probably a higher percentage of residents pay state than federal taxes, because there are fewer and smaller deductions and loopholes on the state form.

  • *Parking meters.

  • Hey greg, The IBJ recently reported that the IN road building fund is on track for a significant boost. Legislators and and the governor want more tax money going to road projects. You stated that you have an issue with tax dollars going for mass transit and alternative fundraising should occur for mass transit reality. Do you have an issue with your tax dollars going to improve the roads?

    • Mike- I have an issue with ongoing tax increases on workers and wasted spending by politicians, no matter where it’s directed. Workers, who are lucky to have jobs in this fledgling economy, are being stretched more and more all the time to cover their expenses. I stand with them and make no apology for voicing their concerns over this issue.

      Evidently, I’ve pushed some buttons here today and generated hostility from a few people. That was not my intention. I just wanted to offer my point of view on an open comment board.

      • With respect, I urge you to realize that in your comments about people who supposedly pay no taxes, you are repeating a piece of insidious right-wing propaganda. There is no massive underclass of non-contributing moochers who don’t deserve the full rights of citizenship, and people obviously are going to rebut your assertion that there is. That said, none of the responses could be reasonably described as hostile.

        To respond to your concern about workers being squeezed by taxes, I think there is a much more serious problem of workers being squeezed by transportation costs and lack of mobility. Households that can barely make ends meet often have to strain their budgets to maintain a car, because there is no other way to get to work. People who rely on the grossly underfunded IndyGo have to spend an unreasonable amount of time getting to and from work, and many find their job prospects severely limited by the bus system that defines where they can go and when. Jobs in the suburbs, which have no public transit at all, are totally off limits to anyone without a car. These problems are, right now, putting far more of a squeeze on the struggling workers of this city than a 0.3% tax increase ever will.

  • I don’t remember our legislators requiring this much time to study the tax increases/tax breaks they passed for the Pacers, the construction of Lucas Oil stadium or recently for the IMS. I really thought that maybe with the support from the business community,the mayor and others this would at least reach the referendum stage and the people would be able to decide for themselves. Pass or fail we should be able to vote on this transit plan.

  • I have a few issues with this plan:

    #1: It is yet another tax on productivity, and all I see is calls for more and more wealth confiscation. A couple of years ago, the CIB wanted a regional tax. Indy Connect wants a regional tax. Property taxes in Marion County, and here in Hancock County, continue to go up, as local units of government are claiming for more and more, while they bloat their entities.

    #2: We don’t need rail. I know some transit folks would die if mass transit didn’t include some sort of fancy, fixed rail line. I don’t know why. Buses are just as good, and they cost a lot less money. Indy doesn’t have the density for rail. I don’t want to hear that Indy Connect is not longer a rail based plan. If they weren’t gunning for rail, and seriously focused on just BRT and expanded bus routes, they would have lowered the amount of the tax hike. They no longer need the .3% increase in local income taxes. They should be able to make due with .15%, maybe .18%. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to lower the amount of money they want to confiscate from workers.

    #3: It is my understanding that this bill will just add additional bureaucracy, creating yet another unelected board with taxing authority. I’m getting sick of such quasi-government entities. I would rather the board be compromised of already elected officials. A certain number per county involved, then say a certain number from those communities serviced (Indy, Fishers, Noblesville, Carmel, Westfield). I want the taxing power of the board severely limited, possibly requiring a referendum for every future money grab.

    Out of the above, #2 is actually the number one issue for me, closely followed by #3. The more the government takes from me, the less I have for donations, buying cookies from girl scouts, popcorn from boy scouts, whatever the K-12 kids are selling, United Way giving, etc..

    • Some comments that will hopefully put your mind at ease:

      Regarding #2 – Currently only the only portion of the Indy Connect plan that is POSSIBLY going to be rail is the Green Line. In that corridor, there is already unused rail right-of-way (the Nickelplate). Bus Rapid Transit will be used for all other lines.

      Regarding #3 – The taxing authority is restricted to an income tax of 0.3%. For a person making $50,000/yr (about the median) this would be about $12.50 per month or $150 per year. Not to mention, if this plan gets put into place, someone like my mom, who commutes from Greenwood to Castleton could take a Red Line/Green Line combo thus saving $200 or more a month in gas, more than offsetting any tax.

      As mentioned before, many people view this plan as an amenity. However, I view it as exactly the opposite. This plan helps those least able to afford a car by providing them flexible access to various job centers around the town in a timely manner. This is a social justice issue.

    • Brian T, with all due respect, Hancock County (where you imply that you live and pay taxes) isn’t in this debate. Marion, and possibly Hamilton Counties, would ask their voters for a referendum. As to the other 90 counties…frankly, it’s none of your business until your county government asks you. If you want a say in Marion County, do what I did and buy a house here and make your life inside 465.

      Regarding taxes: Taxes are not “confiscation”. They are the price of a civilized society and its public goods.

      • I disagree about Hancock Co. not being an issue. I actually pay federal taxes, while others, even those who work to some extent in a given year, don’t. Last I was aware, federal tax dollars were being used for this project. As far as taxes bring about civilized society, that is crazy. There are plenty of other cities, some bigger and some smaller than Indy, with higher taxes, including transit taxes. They have homicides, robberies, etc.. I just hope when I reduce my charitable giving by $300/year, you will do your part and give $300 more per year to make up for what I can no longer afford to donate.

        As far as only the Green Line being possibly rail, it was said to be rail before it was to be BRT. During that incarnation of Indy Connect, we were told the tax rate would be .3%, and we would need over a billion dollars. Then the plan was changed, with the Green Line listed as being the first possible future rail line. However, for some reason, they still wanted .3% of local income taxes.

        • Brian T, the federal tax dollars spent on roads far outstripes the amounts being spent on the Indy Connect plan. I believe the entire Indy Connect plan is about the same as the Major Moves work on the downtown split and westside alone. I don’t recall getting to vote as to whether that money was spent or not. I would have voted against both.

  • I think its funny the people that run around talking about the taxes they pay and think they know how much in taxes everyone else pays. I still don’t understand why someone from Hancock county is complaining about taxes being raised for Marion and Hamilton counties. That makes as much sense as someone from Los Angeles county complaining about it.

    • Exactly so, DT. And I’m not sure what homicide rates have to do with transit taxes? Or why anyone’s federal taxes would go up merely because Indy receives a portion of already-budgeted federal funds.

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