INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The fate of rapid bus transit in Indianapolis is before state lawmakers; senators on Tuesday approved the measure, which now will be sent to the House for consideration.
The biggest issue is how IndyGo gets its funding.
At its root is a fight over definitions and original intent with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.
The key disagreement is whether federal grant money considered tax dollars.
State Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis, authored Senate Bill 141. “The bill is all about holding IndyGo accountable.”
But Lesley Gordon, IndyGo’s director of public relations and partnerships disagrees. “For IndyGo, it’s changing the rules when we’re halfway in it.”
State law is clear. IndyGo must get 10% of its operating expenses for expanded projects, such as the existing Red Line, from places other than taxes and fares.
That 10% is at dispute, with construction start dates looming this summer for the Purple Line connecting Lawrence to the Statehouse via 38th Street.
Gordon said that’s not a problem. IndyGo brings in millions in federal grant money. It’s an opinion backed by the Legislative Services Agency. The agency handles fiscal analysis and research matters for the Indiana legislature.
“The fact that they (Freeman) had to change the language shows they are changing the way it was originally written and what we’re already in compliance with,” Gordon said.
However, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a written opinion that he considers federal grant money as taxes, so IndyGo’s share must come from sources including advertisements, private grants and its nonprofit foundation.
“The Indiana attorney general declares what the law is in Indiana.” Freeman said. “That’s the opinion I’m going with.”
The bill moved out of the Senate Committee on Appropriations last week in a 7-5 vote with one Republican joining four Democrats in voting “no.”
Freeman, who represents the southeast side of Indianapolis, said he’s looking ahead to the Blue Line. As designed to connect the east and west sides of the city, the rapid bus transit route would take away several lanes of traffic to make for designated bus lanes along Washington Street.
The Red Line took over portions of Indianapolis streets when it began in September 2019. The Red Line stretches from the University of Indianapolis on the south side to 66th Street north of the Broad Ripple business district.
The Indianapolis Republican said he doubts the future and financial viability of rapid bus transit.
“We need to be asking these questions now as opposed to later,” he said. “If you’re a commuting person who has got to get to work in a car, good luck.”
IndyGo’s Gordon said studies have shown commute times will increase from 1-4 mines with bus rapid transit. She adds that the infrastructure and overhaul are needed, especially to build on the network started by the Red Line.
“It’s designed to work together. We’d be like a one-legged stool if these projects don’t continue,” she said.
If passed, Senate Bill 141 would impose financial penalties on IndyGo for not meeting its requirements, which would effectively shut down future mass transit projects for the bus system.
If the Senate passes the measure Tuesday, the bill would then be sent to the House for consideration.