Union: Congress ‘penalizing’ transit riders by ending tax break

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A union for transit workers is complaining that Congress is penalizing public transportation riders by ending tax benefits that have been given to people who commute to get to work without driving.

The amount of their monthly incomes that transit riders are allowed to set aside before taxes for their commutes to work was reduced from $230 to $125 on Jan. 1. 

The benefit for drivers' parking was adjusted to $240 dollars in 2012.

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International President Larry Hanley said the imbalance was unfair to transit riders.

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“What a way to start 2014,” Hanley said in a statement. “Congress is penalizing millions of commuters who choose public transit with a tax increase, while those who drive and park receive a tax break. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The transit tax benefit was first increased in the 2009 economic stimulus package. The tax break was extended in the bill that was passed by Congress at the beginning of last year to delay implementing the 2011 sequestration automatic budget cuts.

Hanley said lawmakers should make restoring the benefit full-time a priority when they return to Washington next week.

“We should be encouraging commuters to get out of their cars and take public transportation — not the opposite,” he said. “When people take public transit, there are fewer cars stuck in traffic, less pollution and less dependence on foreign oil. Public transit creates healthier communities, and it’s good for the economy.”

Reps. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) have introduced a bill to restore the transit tax benefit to $230.

The measure, which has been dubbed the Commuter Parity Act (H.R. 2288), would make the transit benefit consistently equal to the tax break that is given to drivers.

Hanley said it was only fair to provide transit riders and drivers the same benefits for their commuting decisions.

“It’s time to give permanent tax credit parity to public transportation commuters,” he said. “The average American family devotes nearly 20 percent of its income to transportation – second only to housing. In addition, a two-person household can achieve an average annual savings of more than $9,700 by living with one less car and taking public transportation instead of driving. A permanent increase in this benefit means transit commuters have one less expense to worry about, and in today’s economy, every dollar counts.”