INDIANAPOLIS,, Ind. – City-county councilors approved the IndyGo budget Monday night in a 21 to 4 vote.
The budget approval comes after roadblocks and tense moments between councilors and IndyGo officials. Just last week, councilors did not allow the budget to move out of a committee. The proposal was added to Monday night’s agenda during the council meeting.
Public transit supporters showed up to the meeting wearing matching shirts that read 'Transit Drives Indy,' a group that is supporting the transit referendum on the ballot next month.
“Any impact to IndyGo’s budget impacts the future of public transportation in general,” said Kelli Margeaux, a referendum supporter.
The budget approval comes at the same time as voters are being asked to consider the referendum, which asks if Marion County residents are willing to pay higher income taxes for expanded public transportation services. The income tax hike would require residents to pay about $100 for every $40,000 in income.
Some councilors were hesitant to approve the IndyGo budget with so much uncertainty about the referendum’s outcome.
“It sets this council up for fiscal crisis should referendum fail,” said councilor Aaron Freeman, (R ) District 25. “You’re putting the cart before the horse.”
Councilors asked IndyGo officials, directly, whether the 2017 budget is reliant on the referendum.
“This budget has no bearing or reliance on the referendum,” said Mike Terry, CEO and president of IndyGo. “This budget was really about 2017 and continued operations we are not changing any service for fixed route, not raising any of the fares.”
Ultimately, a majority of the councilors felt comfortable enough to pass the budget.
But, the IndyGo drivers’ union president says he is uneasy about what will happen if voters say “no” to the referendum.
“If it doesn’t pass and we have to go back to route reductions, which I have been here long enough to know that we have lost a whole lot of routes, I don’t want to see any more cuts or employees threatened by layoffs,” said Roy Luster, union president.
Luster also said he feels like IndyGo does not have a plan B in case the referendum fails.
The public transit system in Indianapolis could see a lot of changes in the next few years. Phase one of the proposed Red Line project is set to be built next year. IndyGo is waiting for a federal grant. If the referendum is approved, rapid transit will also be added along east and west routes. Revenue from the income tax hike would be around $56 million, nearly doubling the IndyGo budget approved Monday night.