INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Millions of dollars in IndyGo’s public funding could be put on hold if an Indiana legislative bill becomes law.
House Bill 1279 on Tuesday afternoon passed through the Indiana Senate 43-7. A conference committee will next review the measure for any tweaks before it gets final legislative approval and heads to the governor’s desk.
IndyGo says, if the bill is approved, Marion County’s rapid transit bus lines could be in limbo. House Bill 1279 would cut 10% of IndyGo’s taxpayer money.
State Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis, told News 8, “The amendment doesn’t say we’re going to withhold all of it. It doesn’t say we are shutting IndyGo down. It says we’re going to withhold 10%. That they need to have some skin in the game. It also says we need to have a public conversation about whether mass transit is sustainable in this county.”
Inez Evans, IndyGo chief executive officer, told News 8 that IndyGo ridership has risen 8% over last year. She said IndyGo could lose from $5 million-$6 million per year.
Evans said, “The routes that were an hour and are now moving to 30 minutes, or routes moving from 40 minutes to 15 minutes. That (Route) 8 that goes every trip (to the airport), all that goes backward.”
The CEO also said the planned Blue and Purple bus rapid transit lines could be threatened.
“It does have the great potential to stop those things. A significant amount of the investment we’re making is not only from IndyGo’s funds, it’s also from the federal government. They are supplying 50% of our funding. To put that into perspective, for Purple and for Blue lines, that’s about $180 million investment from the federal government toward infrastructure improvement alone,” Evans said.
She added, “We may have to consider how we’re going to have to rollback some of the changes. We may decide as a board that we cannot afford to roll out the June service plan as originally proposed.”
Freeman, who created the bill’s amendment affecting IndyGo, argues it means accountability. He said, as part of an agreement five years ago, IndyGo was supposed to form a nonprofit and start raising private money.
“Current law, right now, today, requires IndyGo to raise 10% of their funds through private services. Not fares, not grants, not tax revenue,” Freeman said. “They failed to do so.”
Freeman insist taxpayers have been on the hook for millions of dollars.
Others are weighing in on the potential impact.
Shelley Specchio, chief executive officer of MIBOR REALTOR® Association told News 8, “Our concern is that that would have a huge impact on the Purple and Blue lines and the connectivity that makes this whole system work is really important, especially to Realtors.”
Mark Fisher, the chief policy officer of the Indy Chamber, said, “We had a referendum in 2016 and the voters overwhelmingly supported, 60-40 to expand transit service. This undoes the will of the Indianapolis voter.”
Fisher told News 8 there’s still time the bill to be altered.
Indiana’s 2020 legislative session is scheduled to end next week.
“This legislation is a matter of accountability. When the people of Marion County voted in favor of building mass transit lines, part of that legislation required IndyGo to pay for 10% of its funding independently – not from fares, grants or taxes. The law required IndyGo to meet this goal, but had no repercussions for falling short. House Bill 1279 now addresses that need.
“Since raising income taxes in 2017, hard-working Marion County taxpayers have already paid $170 million to support mass transit. They have no choice but to obey the law and pay these higher taxes. Meanwhile, IndyGo has failed to follow the law and work to raise the private funds required, and only recently established the not-for-profit entity required to raise such funds. It is incredibly unfair to ask Marion County taxpayers to continue footing the bill for this project when IndyGo is blatantly disregarding its requirement.
“The legislation passed today will assure IndyGo follows the law and isn’t continually pushing its finances onto the taxpayer. With this bill, IndyGo will now be required to raise these funds before any new lines can be constructed and much needed accountability is created for the private, unelected and unaccountable board in charge of IndyGo.”Indiana State Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis
“I am extremely concerned by any attempt to prevent Indianapolis from becoming a world class city, and that is exactly what this anti-transit legislation does. It’s a poison pill that seeks to destroy our vision for quality mass transit in our city.
“Communities thrive when they expand public transportation. These investments promote economic development, create jobs, and connect people to vital resources that help families thrive. That’s why I fought to secure $75 million in federal funding for this project, which will not only benefit Hoosiers today, but future generations here in our city.
“As Indianapolis continues to grow and prosper, our transportation system must grow with it. This is not a partisan issue. All of us need the connectivity provided by mass transit — whether it’s the parent who can achieve a shorter commute to and from work, the student who can get to school or college more easily, or the senior who has an easier time getting to the supermarket or their doctor’s office. We owe it to every member of our community to improve and expand our mass transit, and I pledge to remain strongly committed to that worthy goal.”U.S. Rep. André Carson, a Democrat from Indianapolis