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 aÂ contentiousÂ 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.
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 aÂ 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