Proposal 3 (Transit Tax) Passes: Redux

Last night was a big night for our city. The Indianapolis City-County Council voted to increase income taxes by 0.25% to fund a 70% overall expansion of our public transportation system, including both traditional busses and 3 Bus Rapid Transit lines (Blue, Purple, and the expansion of the Red). Here is how each district voted in the November referendum. NOTE: The referendum passed in 79% of precincts.

The map below reflect the Council vote. Aside from 6 Councilors, the votes aligned with each district’s November tally. The exceptions were Councilors Evans and Kreider, who voted yes when their district voted no by slim margins (1.5% and 1.2%, respectively, by far the closest district votes). Councilor Coats also voted no in a yes district (57.6%) with some complex issues to tackle (such as 2/3 of his district getting no physical improvements). In stark contrast, Councillors Simpson, Scales and Clay voted no while their districts overwhelmingly voted yes (68.5%, 63.5%, 64.6%, respectively). The map indicates last night’s final vote by Councilor.

I voted yes to convey the will of my district. Given the fact that District 2 includes a significant portion of those constituents most vehemently opposed to the plan, I find it highly meaningful that 28 of 30 precincts still voted yes, and that our district passed the referendum at almost 64% . While I empathize with the myriad of voiced concerns, particularly surrounding the ensuing construction on College Avenue, I viewed my obligation as enacting the decisive wishes of the district. If our numbers would have been closer to those in Councilor Kreider’s or Evans’ districts, it would have been a more challenging decision.

I voted yes because though not perfect, this plan that started in the Peterson era, and was largely carried forward under the innovative leadership of Mayor Ballard, is thoughtful and pragmatic. It considers how to do the most good for the largest number of our neighbors. It prioritizes connecting citizens to jobs, healthcare, cultural destinations, and other neighborhoods. The plan utilizes (and will greatly improve) our current (nightmarish) infrastructure in a way that is fiscally cogent. While enacting a new tax would never be my first choice, in this case there is simply no better option that can propel our city from our dismal 88th transit ranking further or faster. We can’t wait another 10 or 20 years. The time to forge ahead has come.

The 75M federal Small Starts grant for Red Line Phase I continues to be a point of uncertainty and stress. According to Congresswoman Susan Brooks and her transportation staff just yesterday, there is no reason to believe that our project will be cut from the federal transportation budget. The timing of the appropriation could create construction delays, but I remain cautiously optimistic that the funding will come through. Mayor Ballard mailed a letter yesterday to the new Secretary of Transportation, imploring the process be expedited for the good of our project and others that are sidelined across the nation. That said, if the worst happens and we lose the funding, the transportation expansion will still happen. It will still be as necessary as ever to improve opportunity and connectivity across Indianapolis. See how the Small Starts grant finding impacts our capital investment in the chart below. It certainly would be better for all of us if the 75M comes through, but all is not lost if for some reason it does not. NOTE: It would be totally unprecedented for that to happen. Though this year has certainly been an outlier and I am loathe to depend on the federal government for anything, I remain hopeful.

I see our transit expansion as a critical and overdue investment in the future of Indianapolis. I see it as broadening the opportunities for low-income citizens and adding yet another innovation that will make us even more competitive with other cities across the country and around the globe. Indianapolis does not need to be the next Denver, Austin or Charlotte. We only need to be the best city we can be. We need to keep getting better; growing thoughtfully and mindfully toward long-term prosperity. Building on our strengths (economic climate, booming tech industry, public-private partnerships, family-friendly neighborhoods, educational options, cultural amenities, expansive greenways, etc) and shoring up our weaknesses (transit, crime, infrastructure) is the way we usher Indy into a better future. This initiative attacks 2 of our three weaknesses. While it does not present a total solution for either infrastructure or public transportation, but it is a wonderful start.

Lastly, I want to reiterate a portion of my comments during last night’s meeting. It is imperative that we do everything we can to help the business owners who soon will feel significant impacts from construction. I am mostly concerned about those businesses in my district along College Ave. I have already begun talks with IndyHub, the Indy Chamber, and other organizations to create a plan for supporting these businesses while we go through the necessarily painful transition of making our city better. While we will all benefit from this eventually, they will pay a short-term price. I challenge each and every one of you to make it a point to support these businesses with your dollars, your social influence, and your kindness. It is our responsibility as a community to support those businesses that give our neighborhoods the charm, character, and functionality we so love in Midtown. As we saw during the building of Cultural Trail, it is my hope that these businesses emerge from the construction process to a more vibrant, more connected, more successful College Avenue corridor, and we can all help that happen.