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Mass transit: Delay or denial

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If you are a supporter of mass transit, hopefully you are a Cubs fan, because it looks like you're going to have to wait until next year.

The Indiana General Assembly's top leaders say the measure is likely to remain dead for the session and not come back before lawmakers adjourn in March. The measure died in the House Ways & Means Committee over what Indiana House Democrats labeled as "right-to-work" language, which said no employee can be compelled to join a union. Republicans argued the language reflects what is in federal law. Democrats said they would vote for the bill if the language was taken out, something the GOP has not been willing to do.

While it is true no bill is ever really dead until the sine die deadline, the odds of mass transit making a comeback are slim to none. Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says he'd like to see the measure resurface, but seemed skeptical about its chances. He said Republicans attempted to compromise with the Democrats by removing some of the objectionable language, but that Democrats made a number of other demands including changing the make up of the authority created to govern the system. He said they should not have gotten hung on a few words in a 10,000-word bill, but taken the measure as a whole.

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Ft. Wayne, was more direct and declared the bill dead for the session.

Long criticized Democrats for objecting to the "right-to-work" language, but he also took proponents to task saying they should have waited until the budget year to do mass transit.

He also added a lot of lawmakers were skeptical of how mass transit would be financed. He said the proponents did not spend enough time working with Marion County area lawmakers to garner their support. A number of lawmakers who are outside of the urban core (Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, and Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis) oppose mass transit either because of their philosophical stance against tax increases or they don't feel the plan provides enough service to their areas. (Most of the new bus and rail lines are designed to help the northeast corridor.)

Ron Gifford of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force said his group would not give up hope and will use the remaining time this session to see how they can move the mass transit plan forward. He says they will continue to talk to those skeptical lawmakers and also see what they can do to make IndyGo more viable.

The regional mass transit plan includes a solid financial framework, Gifford said, noting his willingness to walk any lawmaker uncertain of the system's viability through the numbers.

Fundamentally, in order to get mass transit through the legislature, proponents may have to sweeten the pie for skeptics. They can do this in a couple ways. First, to address the tax increase issue, they should include language that would adjust the mass transit tax rate so that they levy is directly tied to the amount of outside funding it receives. The levy would be capped at its proposed rate and then respectively lowered depending on the funding. This way those who oppose a tax increase can philosophically say they did not because citizens are not paying anymore out of pocket.

The other thing they can do is take a second look at service to the south side of Indianapolis. Many of the south-side Republicans who oppose mass transit believe it is simply a tax increase that won't benefit their constituents since, in their opinions, the bulk of the service is that northeast corridor, even though that is where most of the population is concentrated. Proponents may want to expand service on the south side and rework the routes in some of the other corridors in order to get those skeptics on board.

Will it be tough?Yes.Will it take time?Yes.But as Gifford told me in an interview, he's a Cubs fan, so he is used to waiting until next year.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney, the editor of IndyPolitics.Org and a frequent political analyst for RTV 6. His audio and analysis are courtesy of IndyPolitics.Org.

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