A Lesson in the Need for Home Rule

Here’s what I don’t understand.

The City of Indianapolis and surrounding counties want to vote on whether to tax ourselves in order to support a minimally-decent public transportation system. It is widely acknowledged that we do not have such a system now.

I am strongly in support of this much-needed upgrade to our current, inadequate bus system, but I do understand that some people–for whatever reason–either do not support expanded transit or do not agree with the current approach to constructing such a system. Fine. Those are matters for debate and an eventual vote to determine whose view is more persuasive.

What I do not¬†understand is the disinclination of some Indiana legislators to allow us to make that decision and hold that vote. I am offended–and I think Indianapolis residents should all be offended, whatever our position on mass transit–by the reluctance expressed by members of the General Assembly to allowing us to decide this issue for ourselves.

This is a prime example of the problems Indiana cities and towns face because we lack meaningful home rule. In other states, local units of government have the authority to decide such matters without having to beg legislators for permission.

Think about how ridiculous this situation is. The citizens of Indianapolis are asking the legislature to allow us to make a democratic decision on a matter that will affect only us. Self-important legislators who represent parts of the state that will be entirely unaffected by whatever decision we make are stroking their chins and taking the matter “under advisement.”

I’d love to ask them who the hell they think they are, but I know the answer. They are petty dictators who think that their exalted positions would somehow be diminished if we were allowed some measure of local decision-making authority–and who have the legal power to say “f#*k you” to the residents of Central Indiana.

Against mass transit? Fine. Against the current proposal for expansion? Okay.

Against self-determination and home rule? Despicable and unacceptable.


  1. I have a number of friends who are very pro-mass transit who are against this project. They know this will be an opportunity for corporate interests to shove more of our tax dollars in their pockets like happens with every public-private project in Indianapolis. Then you have things like the proposed new TIF for the rail that will divert yet more money from city services, money that will be going to private developers.

    A referendum isn’t going to be anywhere close to a fair fight. There is huge money on the pro side, all the developers, attorneys, architects, contractors, etc., making money off the side will be pushing it. The pro side is going to be able to use our tax dollars to push the referendum. As with the Wishard referendum, you’ll have people getting around the non-tax deductability of campaign contributions by funneling money through 501(c)(3) organizations which can legally give money to political campaigns. In the Wishard campaign about 99.9% of the money came from a handful of 501(c)(3) organizations. There were virtually no individual contributions. Needless to say, I don’t think the IRS would be amused by the tactic. I wrote about this on my blog back then.

    They’ll also try to get it as a special election in an off-year or during a primary when there are fewer people voting.t. Then like Wishard they’ll write the question in such a way that you’re in favor of killing puppies if you vote against it.

    The legislature is actually a protection from the minority getting overrun by all the special interests that have decided that expanded public transportation, and the increased taxes that go along with it, will be a way they can cash in.

    I don’t doubt you legitimately support expanded public transportation for the right reason. I have no doubt though that your altruistic motives aren’t shared by those who are lining up to cash in.

  2. I’ve long believed that the reason Marion County doesn’t have a better bus system isn’t because of a lack of revenue, but a lack of priorities. We can’t full fund a police department, fund the county agencies with a functional budget, fund the operating costs of two (soon to be three) stadiums, support some type of public transportation, AND subsidize every construction project who has a buddy on the 25th floor.

    There has to be priorities.

    I also have a beef with this whole transportation commission that’ll be set up. These pseudo-governmental entities have been part of the problem, not part of the solution. And while the City-County Council has its own problems, I’d rather have them be the legislative body that public transit reports rather than a CIB-like municipal corporation where the CCC only has minimal control. That doesn’t mean I want the CCC deciding what routes to run and what time stops are made. But the overall big picture and the funding should be done by an elected legislative body so that they’ll have complete control over the budget.

    My most frequent critique of past mass transit plans was the glamor of light rail. Even though it wasn’t a large part of the construction, it did eat up a lot of cost. I’m glad that rail has gone down a lot in IC’s plan and that it more heavily relies on traditional bus and BRT.

    I’m very supportive of extended bus transit in Marion County and the surrounding counties, and open minded about other mass transit ideas. But the details, so far, give me a lot to be concerned about.

  3. I do agree with Paul that there is a tendency for both parties to shovel public funds to private interests. I also worry that a revamped transit system will try to solve a number of problems and end up wasting money and solving none of those problems.

    However, I’d like some public debate and I do still believe in the principle of self government. If I wanted some “wise protectors”, I certainly wouldn’t choose the people running the legislature.

    The real reason for the legislature’s attitude, Sheila, is based upon their philosophy of government – “That government is best which is closest to the people — unless they might be Democrats”. True home rule is threatening because denser population centers, cities, tend to be more Democratic. They prefer the big decisions be made by the “wiser” Republican-controlled legislature.

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