Marion County voters face question about new income tax for improved bus system

File photo.

File photo.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett supports an improved bus system for Marion County.

He just won’t say whether or not he supports a new income tax to pay for it.

“I don’t believe it is my role to tell people how to vote,” said Hogsett. “My role is to encourage them to vote.”

At stake next Tuesday is a ballot referendum to create a new personal income tax not to exceed $100 per $40,000 of annual income.

The money, a potential $56 million annually, would pay for an improved bus service and update mostly east/west routes to feed the expected Red Line running from Broad Ripple to downtown to the University of Indianapolis.

“We need more routes. We need routes to be more frequent, the stops to be more frequent,” said Hogsett.  “There are parts of the city that are underserved with mass transit so the referendum is really intended to address a couple of different things. How Indianapolis goes forward in mass rapid transit and then how a supportive infrastructure can be put in place to help basic transit, people getting from point A to point B throughout the city.”

IndyGo, while prohibited from lobbying in favor of the referendum, has sponsored dozens of information forums throughout Marion County to advise voters of the plan while private and organizational partners have funded an ad campaign in support of the new tax.

“Part of the reason of having a referendum is having the people of the community make that decision that I hope would be honored by the City County Council,” said Hogsett.  “This is not some elected official or group of elected officials making this decision kind of unilaterally but this is the public coming together on Election Day and being asked, ‘How much are you willing to pay for transportation in Marion County?’”

Large swaths of Marion County, particularly Franklin Township and Decatur Township, will not experience enhanced service as a result of a “yes” vote, which is an advisory ballot.

Eastsiders, traveling along the Washington, 10th and 38th Street corridors, would benefit from more frequent service at more hours of the day and feed into the expected Red Line, an electric rapid transit line that would stop at fixed stations along the routes.

While IndyGo officials have a five-year plan mapped out assuming the tax referendum passes, they don’t have a clear vision of the future should voters turn down the increase and whether layoffs, non-union contracts, fare increases or service reductions would result.

“Those are going to be discussions that have to begin next Wednesday morning,” said Hogsett. “If the designated amount as provided for by the referendum is approved, then the Council and the administration, along with all stakeholders, will have to start having discussions about, ‘Well, how much of that amount is absolutely necessary? Is the full amount necessary?’ IndyGo believes that it is. Other people may have different opinions. I want to be in a position to listen to all opinions and make a decision accordingly.”

A City County Council committee in September refused to pass the IndyGo 2017 budget because of unanswered questions regarding the potential aftermath of a “no” vote and uncertainty over the future of Red Line financing by Congress.

The full council later approved the budget.

“If it fails, it will fail for a reason and that is the people of Marion County have sent a message to me, to the members of the council and to IndyGo to go back to the drawing board and figure out how those very concerns can be addressed without raising taxes,” said Hogsett, who refused to reveal how he will vote on the referendum.

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