The Herald Bulletin

March 9, 2014

Light rail big issue in transit bill

By Zach Osowski The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the biggest issue facing the conference committee on the mass transit bill is the matter of light rail.

Because the Indiana House and Senate passed slightly different versions of Senate Bill 176, the differences have to be ironed out in a conference committee, composed of two senators and two representatives.

Lanane is not a committee member, but is serving as an adviser to the committee members. He is a co-author on SB 176.

The bill, if passed, would allow for certain Indiana counties, including Madison County, to establish a referendum for residents to vote on. Citizens would choose whether they want a mass transit system and how much they are willing to pay for it.

In the version the Senate passed, light rail was forbidden as an option but the House put the option back in. Lanane said the rail issue is one that has the lawmakers divided.

“It’s definitely the big sticking point from my perspective,” Lanane said. “I think not having it in severely weakens the bill.”

Lanane said since the light rail option is ultimately a decision the voters will make, he doesn’t see why having it in is a bad idea. But he said there are some clear opponents to light rail. Many of them think it is far too expensive to even involve consideration.

If light rail was not an option, updated buses would be the only recourse proponents of a transit system would have to work with.

Another major difference between the two versions of SB 176 is the tax on big businesses. The Senate version said businesses would have to pay for 10 percent of the mass transit cost. Proponents of this idea said it was necessary for businesses to have some skin in the game since a transit system would help them.

The House took that provision out and replaced it with a different amendment that encouraged businesses to help pay for the transit system but didn’t require a certain amount be paid.

Lanane said his fear with the 10 percent provision is a price tag that big would lead to some lawmakers voting against the bill.

“I think it could be a poison pill for this bill,” Lanane said.

The General Assembly session ends this week so the conference committee will have to find a way to bridge the gaps between issues quickly.

“We’re starting to get down to the nitty-gritty,” Lanane said. “They’re going to have to get this done soon.”

The bill will have to get the approval of the conference committee and then be passed by both the House and Senate before it would go to Gov. Mike Pence to become law.

The session is expected to end Thursday.

Follow Zach Osowski on Twitter @Osowski_THB, or call 640-4847.