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Indiana Governor signs bill allowing Indianapolis to vote on transit ballot measures

In a huge victory for citizens and the local business community, Indiana  Gov. Mike Pence (R) Wednesday signed a long-sought bill giving metro Indianapolis counties the right to vote on funding a much-expanded public transportation network, including bus rapid transit.

(We wrote about this same bill passing the legislature earlier this week in a post looking at how states were helping or hurting local efforts to improve their transportation networks.) – Ed.

“Our capital city is a world class destination and needs a world class transit system,said Governor Mike Pence in his statement shortly after signing the bill allowing the six metro Indy counties to hold referendums to let voters decide whether to build a transit system using mostly income-tax revenue. After at least three attempts by boosters over the last few years to get a bill approved, Governor Pence signed the bill late yesterday afternoon

For three years, Indy leaders asked the state legislature to give them the ability and control to ask their own voters if an improved regional transportation network was something worth a few dollars more each year in additional income taxes — something that Indiana counties cannot do without permission of the state. Local mayors, county executives, citizens and many in the local business community have been clamoring for an improved transit network — including rapid bus corridors — for years to help keep Indy competitive. They just wanted their chance to make the case to the voters and let the citizens of metro Indy make their decision.

Gov. Pence apparently heard the message:

“I am a firm believer in local control and the collective wisdom of the people of Indiana.  Decisions on economic development and quality of life are best made at the local level. Whether local business tax reform or mass transit, I trust local leaders and residents to make the right decisions for their communities.”

This was certainly a big victory for the business community, and an issue on which Indy Mayor Greg Ballard had lobbied hard, telling the Indy Star that he’d “been to the Statehouse more on this than any other issue.”

“This marks a significant step forward for the growth of Indy and the rest of Central Indiana,” said Mayor Ballard in his statement yesterday afternoon. In many ways, though, the hard work is really just beginning. While the state has indeed empowered the five metro Indianapolis counties to take the question to the ballot, that might not happen before 2015, and will require a huge effort to coordinate between the different counties and make the case to voters.

“Today is a day for Indy to celebrate but not the day to declare victory. There is still much work to be done,” Mayor Ballard said.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization was delighted by the news as well.

“Our region’s leaders have worked diligently on this bill for years, and it’s a major milestone for transit in Central Indiana,” said Sean Northrup of the Indy MPO. “It’s not the finish line but it takes us one major step closer. The bill requires specific proposals, so we’ll continue to refine the Indy Connect plan and we’re looking forward to our next round of public input meetings this spring.”

Learn more about the Indy Connect plan here, and watch their video below.