“I think it’s the best chance the Bike Commuter Act has had so far in the Senate.”
— Katie Drennan, a legislative assistant for Congressman Earl Blumenauer
For the fourth time this session, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that includes a tax benefit people who ride their bikes to work.
The Bike Commuter Act has taken many forms and has been a part of several different pieces of legislation over the years. Amazingly, even though the legislation seeks only to offer the same benefits to those who bike to work as those who drive or take transit, it has been ridiculed (remember Patrick McHenry?) and has lacked support for being too expensive (that’s what Oregon Senator Gordon Smith thought in May 2006) among other things.
At one point in April of 2007, Blumenauer’s office was concerned that allegations of fraud leveled at other components of the existing transportation tax benefit program (like people selling unused transit passes on Craigslist) would taint support of the bike commuter benefit.
It has been a roller-coaster battle to say the least.
Currently, the the bike commuter benefit is part of several provisions introduced by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that are included in the Energy Bill (or HR 6899; The Comprehensive Energy Security & Consumer Protection Act) that’s being debated in Congress this week.
As it stands now, Section 827 of the Energy Bill (titled the “Transportation Fringe Benefit to Bicycle Commuters”) states that employers would be able to provide $20 per month in pre-tax benefits as long as the employee used their bike “for a substantial portion of the travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment”. The money could be used for, “the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage”. The estimated cost is $10 million over 10 years.
The Bill passed through the House last night with a vote of 236-189 and is expected to be voted on by the Senate tomorrow or Friday (9/19).
One of Blumenauer’s legislative assistants, Katie Drennan, told me this morning that she’s cautiously optimistic. “I think it’s the best chance the Bike Commuter Act has had so far in the Senate,” but she added, “it is by no means a done deal.”
Conventional wisdom in on The Hill is that the Energy Bill is far from a sure thing in the Senate. And, even it if it does pass, the President has already threatened a veto.
“We’re crossing our fingers on passage,” says Drennan, “but its fate is really up in the air.”
— The League of American Bicyclists has sent out an Action Alert to encourage folks to contact their Senators about the bill.
— For previous coverage of the Bike Commuter Act, see the BikePortland.org archives.