Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Transit Bill is Getting More Interesting

The transit bill got a lot more interesting this morning as I read Chris Sikich's article in the Star ("New roadblocks may loom for Indianapolis mass transit expansion").

No, it wasn't Governor Pence's tepid
“I’m someone who believes this economy is still struggling and we ought to be reducing the tax burden on Hoosiers,” Pence said, adding he would keep an open mind.
No, it wasn't the Koch brothers backed 'Americans for Prosperity Indiana', which is anti-tax, anti-tax, and more anti-tax, and which has money to pour into any referendum fight on mass transit.

What made the mass transit bill a lot more interesting, was State Senator Jean Breaux's use of the mass transit bill to push back on SB 621, which sucks much of the power out of the City-County Council and hands it gift-wrapped to Mayor Ryan Vaughn (see this blog's "Welcome to the Republican World").  Briefly, SB 621 would eliminate the 4 At-Large Council seats, give unprecedented and ill-advised budget manipulation to the Mayor, and hand a super majority of Metropolitan Development Commission appointments to the Mayor, among other things.

I have to admit right up front, I am one of Senator Breaux's biggest admirers.  She is one of a handful of Democrats who keep my hope alive that the Democratic Party is still rooted in principle and pragmatism - not greed, ambition, and power mongering.

And while I'm admitting things, let me also say that the mass transit bill would have to remove the rail option (dubbed the 'Stadium to Paladium' route by fellow blogger Fred McCarthy over at Indy Tax Dollars) [edited to add: Fred tells me I got the route wrong.  The Stadium to Paladium is the red line, rapid bus route] and not create the regional authority to get my support.  I don't mind my taxes going up to pay for a beefed up IndyGo, even if my neck of the woods won't gain anything from it.  But, I can't see pushing for a super sized mass transit in a low density region.

Breaux is willing to use the mass transit bill, which one of the very few pieces of legislation that actually needs Democratic support in order to pass, to leverage against the power grabbing SB 621.  As Sikich reports :
Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said she would “love to have mass transit and I think it’s very important,” but would vote against the transit bill if Senate Bill 621 advances. And she would try to persuade her fellow 12 Democrats to follow suit.

She says Mayor Ballard wants both bills to pass, and he likely will need Democrat support to get the transit bill through a Republican-dominated Senate that is growing increasingly skeptical about transit.

“He has to decide which is most important, which is he the most concerned about,” she said. “And I would hope he would be most concerned about mass transit ... and that he would consider it to be more important than controlling government.”
Democrats like Breaux want mass transit improvements to make life better for a whole lot of people.  Mayor Vaughn wants it for its slush fund value, and if it happens to make life better, fine.  A few people will be beneficiaries of that slush fund.  And the Mayor of Indianapolis will control the new transit authority and to whom it gives its contracts.

The trouble with the Mayor's office is that it thinks it can get both the transit and power bills made into law.  It rather easily managed to roll enough of the Council Democrats over the recent budget battle; some because they agree with Vaughn and some because they have no backbone.

Mayoral spokesman Marc Lotter told Sikich :
Marc Lotter, Ballard’s spokesman, said Ballard is still hopeful transit will pass. Lotter said transit and the Marion County government bill are separate issues. The mayor, he reiterated, wants all of the provisions in Senate Bill 621 except the elimination of at-large seats. However, he does not plan to ask the legislature to stop the attempt to eliminate those seats.
I think they have a very differ battle on their hands when Breaux is standing on the other side, and they underestimate her at their peril.

Someone needs to stand up to the Republican majority, especially in the abuse of power exemplified by SB 621.  I'm glad it is Senator Jean Breaux.  I'm not surprised it is her, but I am glad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I will not vote for a bill I do like, because someone else might vote for a bill I don't like?"