Congress fails to keep the transit benefit from being slashed at the end of the yearDecember 19, 2011
By Stephen Lee Davis
Unfortunately, the Senate’s extension of the payroll tax cut did not include a provision for keeping commuter tax benefits equal, so at the end of the year, the transit pre-tax benefit will be cut in half, and the parking benefit will be increased $10 to $240 to nearly double the amount of the transit benefit. (The transit benefit is being increased from its original level of $120 to $125 for a cost of living adjustment.)
There is still hope for the early months of 2012 when Congress comes back in session, but with Congress about to leave for the year, this change will definitely be enacted come January 1.
So if you need more than $125 of your income each month deducted pre-tax to pay for your transit commute or vanpool, you’ll be out of luck. With this inaction in both chambers of Congress, the federal government is sending a message loud and clear to commuters: they’d like you to start driving to work.
This is disappointing news to many of us, no doubt.
Many in Congress don’t seem to understand what it’s like to be a daily commuter trying to get from A to B each day without breaking the bank. Transportation is the second largest household expense for many households, eating up an even larger proportional share of income for the poorest Americans. The millions who depend on transit to get to work each day shouldn’t have to pay more, and certainly not for something that also saves us energy, reduces congestion and emissions, and uses less oil.
To those of you who sent messages or made phone calls to your representatives in Congress, we thank you. Though it’s not too late to make a call now so they continue to hear that this provision will do serious harm to transit commuters in January, we’ll likely have a renewed push in mid-January 2012 when Congress comes back to Washington after a long holiday break.
Update: The Washington Post editorial page opined in favor of extending the transit benefit.
WHETHER THE federal government should give a tax break to workers to help pay for their commutes is a question that is certainly worthy of discussion. What shouldn’t be on the table is giving a bigger edge in any subsidy to those who drive, as opposed to those who use mass transit — since there is no reason to encourage more traffic, more pollution and more gas consumption. That, however, will be the outcome if Congress doesn’t act before it adjourns for Christmas.