Statement on LIT Increase Proposal at Last Night’s City Council Meeting

The following is a statement I made at last night’s meeting of the Bloomington City Council in opposition to the proposed increase of the Local Income Tax (LIT):

Good Evening, Councilmembers,

Thank you for your diligent consideration of this important community issue. I particularly appreciate that many of you have actively reached out to county officials to hear our concerns and those of our residents.

I have made a number of public statements in opposition to moving forward on this particular tax proposal at this time, and I won’t repeat those here, except to say that I believe that there is a better way if we work together to support legislative changes that have already been under consideration at the state level. But I want to make two comments on aspects that I haven’t really yet talked about in public:

First, about transit: I myself became interested in a potential increase in local income taxes several years ago as a way to increase funding for transit across the county, in both rural and urban areas. I and many other transit advocates, including members of the local business community, even testified multiple times in front of the General Assembly in favor of increased opportunities to raise local revenue for transit. We see transit both as vital for social equity and vital for workforce development.

While we did not get the dedicated legislation we had hoped for, it later became clear that an increase in the ceiling for an existing economic development income tax, enabled by a recent major recodification of all local income tax legislation, could be used for transit as well. I still have hopes for this tax as a source of funds for transit.

Most advocates recognize, however, that now, while we are still in the midst of a pandemic, is not the right time to be raising taxes for transit. That while taxes are rarely popular, waiting to be clearly on the upside of the recession is a better time to be moving forward.

The administration, however, is racing to beat the clock, arguing that the General Assembly will change the income tax legislation in a way that is vastly less favorable to cities and to Bloomington in particular. And they may be right. But on one hand, they argue this is their only chance to raise taxes. However, at the same time the administration has explicitly removed transit from the proposal, with the idea that taxes can be raised again *later* for transit. If the General Assembly is already going to make it more difficult for cities to raise funds, do you think that passing a vastly unpopular tax increase will make the situation better? I would guess that it is more likely to make it worse. Put differently — either this is our only opportunity to raise taxes or it isn’t – if it isn’t, then why the rush?

I had hoped to avoid using this phrase, but I believe in this current proposal, transit has been thrown under the bus.

I know that this Council is very committed to transit. While I hope that you postpone this tax proposal and do not vote it forward tonight, I also very much hope that we can work together to come up with an effective method to fund the expansion of both of our transit systems.

My second comment is that although I think raising taxes in the midst of a pandemic is a bad idea in itself, I’m curious why a short-term General Obligation bond as an alternative has not been a serious topic of discussion, at least not in public as far as I can tell. Yes, some shuffling between budgets would have to be done so that only capital expenses would go into the bond, and capital expenses from other funds could be moved into the bond, freeing up operating revenue. But I could easily see a one or two-year GO bond to raise enough revenue to make the climate change investments that I believe many on this Council support.

The GO bond alternative would have the advantage that it would be the City Council alone making taxing decisions for City residents alone. Further, it has a built-in sunset – the City Council would have to decide to issue another set of bonds for future expenses. It would be a great opportunity to make a strong investment in climate change infrastructure that (a) would not force residents outside of the City to pay for a tax that they do not want and (b) it would allow the economy a chance to recover before building a community consensus on additional permanent taxes.

Essentially, in addition to allowing the City Council to make decisions for City Residents, using a GO bond would also move the funding burden from income to property taxes. I honestly don’t know if that would be fairer and less regressive. It isn’t a no-brainer either way. But I’m just expressing surprise that this option hasn’t been a bigger part of the discussion.

Thank you very much for your time tonight.

Public Information Meeting on 2018-2021 Transportation Projects Tomorrow at 5:30PM

 

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B-Line Extension Project (Illustrative Only)

For whatever reason the City of Bloomington doesn’t have an official press release out yet, so I am trying to do whatever I can to publicize a public information meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening (Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 5:30PM at the Downtown Bloomington Transit Center, corner of N. Walnut and E. Third Streets) sponsored by the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (BMCMPO). This meeting will provide the public with information and take feedback on the transportation projects being considered for the 2018-2021 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

The MPO coordinates the allocation of Federal transportation funding coming into the area and includes projects from the City of Bloomington, Monroe County, INDOT, Bloomington Transit, Rural Transit, and IU Bus.

The proposed fiscal plan that is being presented to MPO committees is here: FY1821TIP_Memo_032217. This plan provides the breakdowns of local vs. federal funding by project/local agency and by fiscal year. It is just the starting point for discussions, and could change based on feedback from MPO committees and the public. This public information meeting provides one — but not the only — opportunity to provide feedback. But this memo only shows the financial breakdowns — it doesn’t actually provide any detail on the projects themselves.

I’m hoping that a more public-friendly version of the project descriptions can be made available soon — but for now all I could find is the packet for the MPO Policy Committee from February 10, 2017. I extracted the relevant section here: MPO Policy Committee Project Descriptions From 2017-02-10 (warning: it is a pretty big document!).

There are several projects that I think the public will be particularly interested, including the County’s Fullerton Pike project (Phases 1 and 2), the County’s proposed roundabouts to improve safety at Curry Pike/Woodyard Road/Smith Pike, the City’s Tapp Road & Rockport Road Intersection project, Henderson Street, Winslow Road, and Jackson Creek trail projects, and the project I’m most excited about — a proposed extension of the B-Line trail west, to connect to the multi-use path going over I-69 at 17th Street and ultimately connecting to the County’s Karst Farm Greenway.

Hope to see members of the public at the meeting!

Here’s a draft of a press release from the MPO:

“The Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (BMCMPO) will hold a Public Information Meeting with the goal of gaining public input for development of the Fiscal Year 2018-2021 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

The TIP documents a comprehensive fiscally-constrained list of multi-modal federal-aid transportation projects programmed for Bloomington, Bloomington Transit, Ellettsville, INDOT, Indiana University Transit, Monroe County, and Rural Transit.

The Public Information Meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Downtown Bloomington Transit Center, located at the corner of N. Walnut and E. Third Streets.

Development of the new TIP requires a public involvement process which includes a public review by the BMCMPO Citizens Advisory Committee, the Technical Advisory Committee, and adoption by the Policy Committee before submission to state and federal agencies.

Public Meeting attendees will provide feedback on the proposed list of TIP projects and to help shape the project funding priorities of the MPO for the next three (3) years. The BMCMPO staff looks forward to discussing these and other important transportation issues with residents at the public meeting.

For more information or written comments on the FY 2018-2021 TIP, please contact BMCMPO Director Josh Desmond at 812.349.3423 or desmondj@bloomington.in.gov.”

Transit Tax Passes in Indy

indygo_bus_indiana_aveLast week, the Indy Star reported that a proposed 0.25% local income tax in Marion County to support public transit expansion advanced (the article and my comments are here: Public Transit Income Tax Advances in Indy).

The tax passed the City-County Council last night. This 0.25% income tax will inject an estimated $54M per year into the public transit system, often thought of as one of the nation’s worst for a major city. 6 counties (Marion, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Delaware and Madison) currently have the option of holding a referendum on a local income tax for transit expansion. This tax will bring the total local income tax rate for Marion County from 1.77% to 2.02%.

Today’s Indy Star article: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/marion-county/2017/02/27/indy-council-approves-transit-tax/98490222/

 

Public Transit Income Tax Advances in Indy

5858d1eb856ac-imageToday’s Indy Star reports that a proposal for a 0.25% local income tax in Marion County to support public transit expansion passed a key committee vote yesterday, sending the vote to the full City-County Council on February 27th:

http://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/marion-county/2017/02/21/marion-county-transit-tax-gets-committee-approval-heads-full-council/98200340/

Back in November, this tax increase to fund public transit passed in a referendum handily by 59.3% to 41.7%.

In the past we have discussed a potential income tax dedicated to public transit expansion here in Monroe County. The revenues would be shared between Bloomington Transit and Rural Transit, and would potentially fund both expansion of transit within the existing city boundaries (both in terms of additional routes and stops, and potentially more frequent service and/or Sunday service), as well as additional point to point service in the rural areas. Of course, the extent of city boundaries may change with a potential annexation, which could have a large impact on the services able to be provided by Rural Transit (a topic for a different post).

Such a tax in Monroe County would require additional state legislation. Senator Mark Stoops has introduced several pieces of legislation (and has been for several years) that would give Monroe County the ability to (but not require it to) pass an income tax between 0.1% and 0.25% to fund transit expansion. Senator Stoops’ proposed bills for the 2017 session are:

  • Senate Bill 371, which is specific to Monroe County
  • Senate Bill 391, which applies to all counties except those that already have the authority under existing legislation

Neither of these bills would require a referendum/public question. Also, it appears so far that neither of these bills will receive a committee hearing this session.

This is where I am interested in hearing from Monroe County constituents. What do you think about a potential increase in income tax dedicated to public transit expansion? Please let me hear your thoughts.

Just for reference, here are our existing local income taxes:

  • Expenditure – Certified Shares (all-purpose local income tax, distributed county, cities and towns, townships, public library, fire protection districts, Bloomington Transit): 0.9482%
  • Expenditure – Public Safety (distributed to the county, Bloomington, Ellettsville, and Stinesville): 0.2500%
  • Property Tax Relief (replaces property tax): 0.0518%
  • Special Purpose (Juvenile services): 0.095%
  • Total Income Tax Rate: 1.345%

 

 

2015 TIGER Grant Awards Include Complete Streets and Intermodal Shipping for Louisville Area

Bill Williams Bridge in Stinesville IN
Bill Williams Bridge in Stinesville IN

On Thursday, the US Department of Transportation announced their 2015 awards for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. TIGER is a competitive grant program that awards nearly $500 million annually for major transportation infrastructure investments that support the key transportation goals of safety, innovation, and opportunity.

The Louisville area was the clear winner in our region from this year’s round of awards.

The Louisville Metro Government (a unified city-county government, similar to Indianapolis-Marion County) was awarded $16,910,000 for the Transforming Dixie Highway project, a series of complete streets improvements along the Dixie Highway corridor. Following is the project description:

This TIGER grant will provide funding to install Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) infrastructure, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) upgrades (including transit signal priority), and complete streets improvements along approximately 15 miles of the Dixie Highway corridor, a congested regional transportation corridor. The ITS improvements include transit signal priority equipment and signal phasing improvements to prioritize transit. The complete streets roadway and safety improvements include pedestrian facilities, intersection improvements, and new roadside urban design elements including raised medians and driveway consolidations, turn lanes, signage, and striping upgrades.

In addition, the Ports of Indiana in Jeffersonville, right across the Ohio River from Louisville, was awarded $10M for a truck-rail-water intermodal shipping facility. Here is the project description:

This TIGER grant will provide funding to construct a double rail loop and rail-to-barge transfer facility with additional rail and turnouts. The project also includes construction of a nearly mile-long rail siding extension that will allow rail carriers to deliver a 90-car unit train to the port. The project will also construct a truck-to-rail intermodal facility in the vicinity of Connector Road to accommodate increasing truck traffic expected from the East End Bridge over the Ohio River.

This was the only award in the state of Indiana.

Monroe County is no stranger to TIGER grants, however. Back in 2012, Monroe County was awarded $3,126,250 for replacement of the Stinesville Bridge, a functionally obsolete bridge with a dangerous approach that would routinely have to be closed when Jack’s Defeat Creek flooded. The bridge was renamed Bill Williams Bridge by the Stinesville Town Board, in honor of long-time (and now former) Monroe County Highway Director Bill Williams.

Here are a couple of pictures from the ribbon-cutting of the TIGER-funded Bill Williams bridge on September 25, 2014:

Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge

Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge

Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge

Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge