David Hoppe

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:: Sticking it to Indy Connect

Republicans choose power over progress

By David Hoppe

Last week in this space I wrote about how the Republican landslide in the midterm elections could throw a monkey wrench into Indy Connect, a major new mass transit proposal for the metro area.

My fears were realized more quickly than I could have imagined.

Republican victories were largely driven by rural and suburban voters who, in Indiana, are not only anti-tax, but anti-city. In this state, that means anti-Indianapolis. Right-wing politicians were bound to interpret the election as being against new, large-scale public initiatives -- like a reinvention of mass transit in the capital city.

Sure enough, it took all of seven days for Luke Kenley, the Republican state Senator from Noblesville who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, to let it be known that he and his Republican cronies are inclined to kill a referendum enabling voters to declare whether or not they support raising taxes in the counties affected by the transit proposal.

"Now, there's obviously a need for some transit solutions in the Central Indiana area," said Kenley, whose suburban community is one of those that would be affected. "That case can be pretty well made. There are some issues that make it a particularly difficult time to deal with that issue."

Those "issues" have nothing to do with whether or not Central Indiana needs a 21 st century public transportation system. Those "issues" amount to a narrow political calculation on Kenley's part that this is not a good time for a suburban politician to have his name anywhere near the words "tax increase."

Indianapolis and its collar counties will have to come up with $1.2 billion to pay for their share of the Indy Connect proposal. That amounts to every household in the metro area paying about $15 per month for the next 25 years.

Given a state legislature that was willing to give the go-ahead on raising taxes to build Lucas Oil Stadium, this doesn't seem like that great a stretch.

But Kenley and Co. aren't willing to go that far for mass transit.

These politicians who claim to be so concerned about doing "the peoples' business" don't want the people to have a say over whether or not they want a new, greatly improved public transit system. For the Republicans in the state legislature, it's enough that they've been elected. Now, apparently, they feel free to do whatever they damn well please, including making sure that no one has the chance to vote up or down on Indy Connect.

Such a vote could be a problem, you see. We might say we're willing to pay to be able to get from here to there without using a car. Even worse, a public transit system might actually work. Then, who knows, we might begin to think about creating a system that provided health care to everybody.

Republican unwillingness to so much as allow a referendum on whether people in the affected counties are for the Indy Connect plan reveals the phoniness of right-wing populism. These mugs haven't taken the country back - they've taken your vote away.

That would be a profound drag in any case, but it's especially self-destructive in light of our crying need for public transportation. It's clear that Indianapolis will never graduate to competitive big city status without it and cities are where the greatest opportunities are percolating. With their dense and diverse populations, cities have become the face of the 21 st century.

A referendum on Indy Connect is vital in order to give all of us a greater chance to learn about the system being proposed and how it could work. As it happens, the proposal as it stands so far looks pretty good. It's encouraging to see the extent to which it emphasizes buses.

I've been writing about the advantages of bus-based public transit for years. Bus-centered systems are being used to great effect in other cities around the world. They don't require the massive upfront costs and infrastructure creation that are involved with rail systems. This means they can also be up and running in far less time than it takes to build light rail.

Concerns have been expressed about a bus system's "cool factor." It's been said that people in Central Indiana aren't into buses. But in cities like Bogota, Colombia, it's been shown that if you construct a bus system like you would a rail line, with actual transit stations instead of the usual naked bus stops, beautifully designed vehicles and express lanes that allow buses to move independently of most other traffic, riding the bus does, in fact, become a cool thing to do.

We need public transit, and we need it yesterday in order for Indianapolis to raise its game in the competition among cities for new businesses and talented workers. It seems, however, that the new Republican regime doesn't see it that that way. For Luke Kenley and his cronies, power is more important than progress.