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America’s Transit Commuters Got a Late Holiday Gift Jan. 1

bus and trolley

Happy New Year commuters. Well, not so much.

Looks like 2014 ushered in an ugly reality for transit commuters: their transit benefits got slashed because the federal transit tax benefit was rolled back. What that means is that on January 1 the price to get to work—for those using buses, trains and subways—just went up. We could assume that traffic delays just went up with it.

On January 1, the federal transit benefit (that is, the amount you can receive without being taxed on the benefit as income) was cut nearly in half–from $245 to $130 a month. If you’re a fan of congested roads, air pollution, dependence on foreign oil and paying more for your commute, this move should make you happy. So now instead of treating parking and transit tax benefits equally–one (parking) is set at $250 per month while the other snaps back to $130. That means every dollar in transit benefits you receive at work over $130 will be taxable. Oh and by the way, employers will see their payroll tax bill go up unless they cut their employees’ transportation benefits.

It appears that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie isn’t the only politician who’s okay with dissing commuters.

But there is a solution. We must get behind legislation that would permanently increase the public transit benefit and bring it in line with what drivers receive in pre-tax parking benefits.

This is not a battle between the political parties. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter King (R-NY) and Michael Grimm (R-NY) tried to fix this problem in the House before the transit benefit expired last year. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has fought for a legislative fix as well, only to be thwarted by obstructionists and done in by the congressional calendar.

This is a no-brainer. Commuting Americans should have the choice to use their tax benefits for a bus or train ride or to park a car. That’s the American way. Not everyone gets to drive to work and those Americans who don’t or can’t shouldn’t be penalized by a skewed tax code.

 

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