Why did mass transit not make it on the ballot?

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On June 28, the the Clay Township Board decided against voting to have or not have a referendum for a mass transit tax on the November ballot. Some people told me the move surprised them because the referendum wouldn’t automatically approve the 25 cents per $100 income tax to pay for the Red Line, a new rapid transit bus.

Some people were surprised because so many local elected officials were in favor.

Township Trustee Doug Callahan said he supports mass transit, as do many of our county commissioners, including Christine Altman. Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he supports the plan as do many — but not all — of the members of the Carmel City Council. State legislators, non-profit leaders and business owners also voiced support.

OneZone, which is the combined Carmel Chamber of Commerce and Fishers Chamber of Commerce, is a strong supporter of mass transit. It seems like all of the elected forces were coming together behind this. So why didn’t the vote happen, and why isn’t the referendum on the ballot?

I think it is because there’s a chance that the public wouldn’t vote for it. Key players in favor of mass transit want to see it pass so it was best to wait until 2018.

I asked some elected officials in Carmel why they think it wasn’t put on the ballot. Here is a little of what I have gathered:

  • Private polling. The results of private polls were not made public, but these estimates were not very favorable and it showed there was more work to be done to educate the public if mass transit were to have a chance to pass.
  • Businesses and large community and government organizations declined to put in the necessary funds to truly amount an effective education campaign to help answer people’s questions and win people over to vote for mass transit. There’s some money for this education, but not really enough.
  • Not enough time. The election is in November and some think that’s too soon to be able to mount an effective campaign without considerable money.
  • Uncertainty in the election. Carmel is usually highly Republican-leaning, but Donald Trump is unlike previous candidates. Does Trump encourage increased voter turnout from Tea Party groups that are traditionally against any new taxes? Does a distaste for Trump increase turnout of liberals and moderates who might be more open to the idea of mass transit? Nobody knows. And uncertainty isn’t ideal. In 2018, it’ll be a midterm election and much more predictable.

To be fair, those supporting mass transit do have the resources to mount a campaign and educate people and from what I can tell those that are against mass transit don’t really have the same opportunity. There isn’t really a well-funded effort opposing mass transit, so the proponents have an advantage. It appears it wasn’t the slam dunk some thought it might be, so two more years should give them time to build their coalition.

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