Senators make case for mass transit tax credit

In all, the senators on the Friday letter — 21 Democrats and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) — said more than 2.5 million people now use the mass transit credit, and that some of those could see commuting costs jump by more than 20 percent next year if the current benefit is not extended.

The lawmakers, many of whom come from states with well-trafficked mass transit systems, also said they believed the mass transit tax credit could be extended at little to no cost to the taxpayer and that this tax break, unlike others, could not be extended retroactively.

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“Given the context of the underlying tax debate, we stress the importance of extending this benefit in the most fiscally responsible way possible,” the lawmakers wrote to Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Finance chairman, and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the panel’s ranking member. “There are a number of different permutations by which this policy could be extended.”

The senators’ letter came as lawmakers in both chambers were pressing to finish up their 2011 work, with the back-and-forth over extending the current payroll tax cut taking center stage on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers also have to deal with a number of other expiring tax provisions, like the credit for research and development. But the final action on those measures could be pushed off until after the new year.

The National Treasury Employees Union also called on Congress last week to preserve the current mass transit tax credit. Legislation to make the current tax benefit permanent have yet to clear the committee level in either the House or the Senate.