Monday, October 06, 2008

Thoughts on the Bike-Commuter Bail-Out

As you've undoubtedly heard, a provision for bicycle commuter benefit
tax credits made its way into H.R. 1424 (The Emergency Economic
Stabilization Act of 2008) that passed last week. The bicycle
commuting benefit has been tacked onto myriad bills in an attempt to
get buy-off on it, mostly because it wouldn't make it through the
process on its own. Some bloggers are praising this. Others are asking
"how do I get my $20?". Regardless, there seems to be a lot of
misunderstanding all over the place. I'll try to clear it up.

Currently, employers can get a tax credit for cutting their commuters
a break. This includes partial or total subsidization of parking and
transit costs. Employers who offer benefits to car, carpool or transit
users can apply for a tax credit. This bike commuter verbiage simply
adds provisions for a tax credit if the employer chooses to offer
benefits to bicycle commuters. This doesn't mean that the employer
will give all bike commuters $20 per month. It means that they will
get a credit of up to $20 per month per bike commuter if they provide
said benefits. The law, as it reads, also states that the company
can't get credit for bike commuters who are already accepting another
form of commuter credit. For example, right now I'm signed up for the
discount bus pass. I'd gladly ditch the bus pass if the company
offered me a locker room and shower as part of a bike commuter benefit
plan, though. This shouldn't surprise anyone, as most employers who
offer benefits for parking their cars or for users of transit force
employees to pick one or the other. At work, I can't get a discounted
parking space AND a monthly bus pass, for example.

A bunch of other legislative riders made it through. Things like tax
breaks for motorsports. The fact is that while bicycle commuting does
have a little bit in common with the financial despair this country is
experiencing (money crunch = less money for fuel = potential increase
in bike commuting), it wasn't added to the bail-out bill for the
explicit purpose of bike commuting. It, like almost all the other
riders, were added in order to buy a few extra votes. The Emergency
Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 couldn't pass on its own, either.
Provisions were shoved into the Act to sweeten the pot for congress
members who would not have otherwise voted in favor. Earl Blumenauer
didn't push for this addition. This was added in attempt to buy
Blumenauer's vote. (By the way, I respect the fact that he still voted
against the H.R. 1424 despite the fact that his bicycle commuter
provisions were added.)

Personally, I'm calling this one a wash. In looking on the bright
side, I do plan on passing this along to the corporate "green team" to
see what the feasibility is. I'll even volunteer to help with the
drafting or proofreading of the policy. And yes, we have a "green
team" whose current accomplishments are things like hiding the
paper/styro cups in the breakrooms so people are forced to bring in
re-usable containers (I use my bike bottle anyways) and installation
of robotic toilets, sinks and light switches...


Unknown said...

I suppose this is found on page 10,001 of the tax code, good grief, give me something I can use, like at least 6" of shoulder on the road before the 10" dropoff.

David Glandon said...

Ya I had mixed emotions on this bill. On one hand I did not think that no amount of money thrown at the problem would help the situation. I was disapointed that it passed and we would be stuck with a large bill that generations may be paying on. Well at least we got this bike tax break out of it. Right now I am working on my employer on starting a program to benifit commuting cyclist. They seem cool with the idea of the tax break but we will see what happens when I give them my suggestions on program we could implament.

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