The Central Indiana mass transit plan hit a massive roadblock
of Democratic and Republican making on Thursday in the Indiana House of
Representatives' Ways and Means Committee
and Means Committee.
The committee, in a 10-11 vote, declined to advance the HB1073, a
bill that would have endowed Central Indiana communities with the authority to
vote on whether to approve a 0.02 percent tax increase to implement a regional mass transit plan
The bill's demise can be linked to political posturing on
both sides of the isle, little of which pertains to the substance of the bill
Tax rhetoric unhinged
Republican opposition rests in the flawed logic that voting
for the bill is akin to voting for a tax increase. In fact, it's a vote for
local control. If the General Assembly passed the bill and the governor signed
it, taxes would not increase.
It would take a referendum vote by each regional county that
wants to participate to decide for itself – through a referendum vote
— whether the enhanced design, connectivity and efficiency the plan
offers is worth a fractional income tax increase.
The voters are free to vote no.
But this reality did nothing to dissuade lawmakers such as
Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R- Bloomfield, from insisting that passing a bill that permits
citizens to vote on a tax increase is the same thing as lawmakers raising
"It gives the people the right to vote, it also gives
the city-county council a say," Ubelhor said in a brief interview
following the committee meeting.
"I don't think that mass transit at this time is
anything we need to be giving the authority to raise taxes on and vote on."
People not indoctrinated into the logic of political reality
may wonder at what point it became problematic for people to have the right to vote
voteor the city council to have a say on what happens in the city they
were elected to represent.
But in a culture where the Americans for Tax Reform no-new-taxes pledge
holds people captive to sound-bite mentality, General Assembly observers say it
is too difficult for attacked Republicans to defend the fact that a vote for
the mass transit bill is not a vote for a tax increase. It's easier for them to
avoid having to explain anything.
Not all Republicans parroted the tax increase line, however.
In fact, more Republicans than Democrats — by a 9-1 margin —
voted in favor of HB1073.
One of them offered classic Hoosier philosophy to justify
"I feel that every district does what's best for their
area," said Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R- Syracuse, before she cast her yes
vote. "I'm not going to step in the way of progress in a community that
wants to see this move forward."
the mass transit plan to a referendum vote. Ballard's first order of business
following his Jan. 1 second-term inauguration was to head to the Statehouse to
round up support for the plan.
Just over a week later, Daniels addressed the issue in his state of the state address:
of the state address:" ... we should trust the people of Central Indiana
with the decision whether to raise local dollars for mass transit if they
believe it crucial to their future quality of life."
The mysterious ways
of the Ways and Means chair
The commitment of the bill's author, House Ways and Means
Committee Chair and Rep. Jeff-Espich
Jeff-Espich, R- Uniondale, is not as straightforward.
Espich, who has been a member of the Indiana House of
Representatives since 1972, was the only lawmaker that took the legislative
initiative to author a mass transit bill this session. But, if he were truly
interested in allowing the locals to decide whether the regional mass transit
plan was in the area's best interest, he made some curious decisions in the
language he used in the bill.
First of all, the Central Indiana Transit Task Force
Indiana Transit Task Forceprojected a 0.03 percent increase on local
income tax was necessary to actualize the regional mass transit plan. Espich's
bill only extended the authority for a 0.02 percent increase.
Then, as the session progressed without action on the bill,
he told reporters that he was having trouble finding support "because
nobody wants to be associated with a tax increase."
Next, he included contentious labor language that —
because federal labor law governs entities such as IndyGo
that are dependent on federal transportation funds — served no other
purpose than to rile up the Democrats.
Before calling a vote on his bill, Espich offered an
amendment which, "in the spirit of compromise É does delete a portion of
the labor language which is a concern to some."
But he left in language that a worker should not be forced
to join a union as a condition of employment – a concept already addressed
in the comprehensive right-to-work bill
billthat House Republicans had passed just the night before after an epic
NUVO contacted Espich's media liaison repeatedly for
clarification on whether his labor language accomplished something outside the
scope of the right-to-work bill passed by the House or the federal law that already
governs contract negotiations of IndyGo workers. No response.
One additional mystery on the GOP side of the equation: If
Ballard and Daniels support the referendum, why has House Speaker Brian Bosma
Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, not rallied behind the cause?
Democrats take the
What happened next might come as a shock to those who assume
that Democrats elected to represent Indianapolis might fight for any possible
improvement to the city's mass transportation system.
Rep. Bill Crawford
Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, was the first to respond to Espich's "compromise."
He called the labor provisions "superfluous verbiage É (that) has no
impact on the functioning of the metro transportation system."
Superfluous, maybe, but consequential enough for Crawford to
conclude, "I will vote against the bill if that language remains in the
The language remained in and Crawford, and five of his
Democratic colleagues voted against the bill.
By virtue of the fact that mass transit in Indy currently
runs on unionized labor, Rep. Win Moses, D-Ft. Wayne, formerly the mayor of
that city, argued that "moving forward with a bill with this labor
language is effectively saying we don't support mass transit."
Rep. Cherrish Pryor
Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, offered up both Espich's
lower-than-necessary funding language and the right-to-work labor provisions as
justification for her no vote.
"If we're thinking regionally É (point zero) 2 percent
does not get us to a mass transit system," she said.
"I've spoken to various (city-county council) members
and they've clearly expressed to me that they would not vote for a mass transit
referendum if there's labor language in the bill," Pryor added. "This
bill still has part of the right-to-work language in there. Effectively, we
didn't give the locals the opportunity to vote for the bill because we put
language in there that they were not going to be supportive of."
It's strangely reminiscent of the tax rhetoric. The fact
that the right-to-work language would have no baring on the workers affected by
the plan is not important — what is important is that Democrats can't go
on record as supporting right-to-work language.
The bill's co-author and the only Democrat to support it, Peggy Welch
Welch, of Bloomington, said that she might suffer political consequences
for her stance.
Despite her distaste for the right-to-work language, she
said, "I try to look at things globally the best I can; I see the value of
this bill. É Even in Bloomington they see the value in terms of moving forward
in the State of Indiana."
Even after watching political infighting destroy the bill in
which they'd placed so much hope, the broad-based lobbying coalition backing
the regional mass transit plan exited the hearing not in indignant huff, but
with the calm patience of experienced parents who had witnessed such childish antics
Their resolve could be heard throughout the hallways, "every
legislative idea has nine lives ... the session is not over ..."
Here's a sampling of the post-hearing reaction:
"We were surprised that it died. ... If right-to-work had
been voted on why do we have to muddy the mass transit bill? Mass transit is
important to move this city forward. We don't need to politicize it; it affects
everyone at some point or another." – Maggie Lewis
Lewis, president, Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council
"Community consensus won't go away; this won't slake
the thirst of the public for mass transportation." – Ron Gifford
Gifford, executive vice president, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership
"We've got to keep working ... and play a role in
promoting the spirit of compromise." – Ehren Bingaman
Bingaman, executive director, Central Indiana Regional Transportation
"We believe to be a first-class city we really need to
think about mass transit — we support the mayor's initiative."
– Jennifer Thuma, associate general counsel, Indianapolis Airport
"Those who voted for it understood they're giving
voters the right to choose." – Tim Maloney,
senior policy director, Hoosier Environmental Council
"I am disappointed that our Central Indiana regional mass
transit plan didn't make it out of committee in the General Assembly. I am
hopeful we can find a way to move forward on the discussion before this session
of the General Assembly adjourns. Investing in a modern, efficient regional
mass transit plan is vitally important to the future growth of Indianapolis and
Central Indiana." – Mayor Greg Ballard
"We understand this is a process. Hopefully further
discussion and a clearer understanding of the importance this legislation has
to central Indiana will result in a path to allow residents to decide their
priorities relating to mass transit through a public referendum." – Jessica
Mitchell, communications manager, Indianapolis Public Transportation
The Indiana Citizens' Alliance for Transportation is
collecting signatures in support for the Regional Mass Transit Plan at www.indianacat.org