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Group seeks cut of Indiana sales tax for high-speed rail

INDIANAPOLIS -- Saying it's time for Indiana to get serious about high-speed rail, supporters of a Midwest rail project are planning a major effort to persuade state lawmakers to get on board, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Their plan: a new dedicated fund to draw 0.04 percent of the state's sales tax, or about $1.5 million a year, for investments, studies and matching money for federally funded projects.

Indiana is one of nine states that support the proposed $4.1 billion plan, which would link Indianapolis to every major city in the Midwest on trains going 110 mph or faster. Financially, the state has contributed little to its estimated $80 million to $140 million share of the price tag.

But after a two-day conference that ended Friday at the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, its first in the capital city, the Indiana High Speed Rail Association unveiled plans for an aggressive lobbying effort during next year's General Assembly.

Its strategy: to convince lawmakers that the benefits of better rail service are not just to passengers but to Indiana's economy, which they say could reap $1.3 billion to $3.8 billion in new jobs, higher incomes and more tax revenue.

"The cornerstone of getting legislative support is our ability to show the jobs we can bring in," said rail advocate Mark Urban, a civil engineer who will lead the effort.

He plans to produce comprehensive reports tailored to legislators who represent key districts along the proposed line. In Indiana, that includes about a dozen counties between Gary and Lawrenceburg and a half-dozen between Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky.

An estimated 5,560 to 16,700 jobs would be created, according to preliminary results of an economic impact study, details of which were released at the conference.

Most of the jobs would be directly related to the rail system itself and support industries, but many also would be created by the ripple effects of a better freight rail system, a key component of the plan.

The city of Gary, through which three high-speed routes would pass, would reap the most benefits. Indianapolis would be a close second, according to Alexander Metcalf, president of Transportation Economics and Management Systems, which is conducting the study.

"The big question is going to be, what does this (project) really mean on Main Street?" Metcalf said. "We know a large number of communities are going to feel the impact, because 80 percent of the population of all nine states will be living within an hour's drive of a rail station."

Indiana taxpayers, even those who support high-speed rail, may not like the idea of taking from a state budget that is already ailing.

"I think it's great that governments are open to looking at new transportation options," said Dave Reedy, a rail supporter who lives in Culver. "(The new fund) seems like a wonderful idea as long as this money doesn't come from a tax increase."

Roger Beaman of Indianapolis, who opposes plans for a local light-rail system, said he is not necessarily against a high-speed rail plan as long as it would be self-supporting and would not negatively affect communities. But he, too, draws the line at higher taxes.

"If the state is proposing a half-cent increase for this, I would not be in favor," he said. "We cannot keep increasing taxes every time we need money for a new need."

High-speed rail supporters argue that if Indiana wants to be part of the Midwest rail plan, it must act now to begin the work needed to upgrade rail lines and stations.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

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