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Oregon House Rep. drafts bike commuter tax break legislation

Posted by on October 1st, 2008 at 9:56 am

John Lim (R-Gresham)

This morning’s Gresham Outlook newspaper has a story about new legislation that has been drafted by Oregon State Rep. John Lim (R-Gresham) that would give a tax break to bike commuters.

According to the Outlook, the current draft language of the bill says,

“a taxpayer who rides a bicycle to work at least 10 days a month could receive a $15 tax credit per month that would be applied to their personal income tax. A business could claim up to a $5,000 corporate tax credit for installing bicycle racks and showers for their employees who commute by bicycle.”

Bike traffic in Portland-8.jpg

Ride your bike, get a break.
(Photo J. Maus)

Lim told the Outlook, that, “Its one tool to address traffic conditions in an environmentally-friendly way, and its a healthy alternative.”

At this point, Lim says the bike commuter tax breaks would be introduced as a pilot program to be adopted by cities, not a statewide law.

The Outlook reports that one other detail being considered is that to qualify, you’d have to ride to work at least 10 days a month.

The Oregon Legislature convenes in January 2009 and Lim is reportedly set to begin committee and public hearings before then so that “details can be worked out with state transportation and tax agencies.”

I’ve got a call into Lim’s office, but have yet to hear back.

On the national level, the latest iteration of Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s Bike Commuter Act is currently part of the Energy and Tax Extenders Act of 2008 (H.R. 6049). The bill has passed the House and the Senate (as of last week, by a vote of 93-2) and is now back in the House for a last review of amendments before it heads to the President’s desk for signing.

— Read the full story in the Gresham Outlook; Legislation would create tax credits for bicycle commuters

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  • Bent Bloke October 1, 2008 at 10:33 am

    This is a great idea! But I’d like to see the 10 days/mo requirement reduced during the winter months. I started bike-commuting in August, and I don’t know how much I’ll be riding when the weather turns. It would be a shame if someone commutes by bike daily during April-October doesn’t qualify because they switch to an alternative when those stormy months arrive.

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  • mabsf October 1, 2008 at 10:42 am

    I think bike commuter should also get the tax break for “running a vehicle with bio fuels”.
    About riding in winter — it’s all about the gear! Good gear can even make a stormy commute a good commute (which should be also tax deductible!)

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  • Steven M. October 1, 2008 at 10:53 am

    I love the tax break for bike racks and showers.

    Have they done any studies on how many people the credit is supposed to get cycling. Like an impact study, or would the bill itself be a test run of sorts?

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  • Vance October 1, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Ooh, ooh, ooh. Showers at work! It’s a trickle so far, but even small steps being taken to get employers on board with vehicular-cycling is tremendously exciting. Tax credits now, but mandates in the future, perhaps after awareness is raised, no? Maybe it’s different in the professional world, but in the crap-job industry bike commuters are stigmatized something fierce. Seeing legislation like this gives me hope that this stigma will one day be neutralized.

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  • Vance October 1, 2008 at 11:06 am

    mabsf #2, perhaps it is not the most rational observation, but you’ve, inadvertently I think, correlated a zero-carbon vehicle (bicycle) with a four-wheeled internal-combustion machine (Automobile). Plus, part of what makes the tax-credit idea affordable is the factor of wear-and-tear on the infrastructure. Additionally, in my opinion the jury is still out on the entire concept of bio-fuels. Burning food in your cager still rankles with some, don’t ya know?

    I’m with you on your thinking, that more alternative approaches to the energy, and environmental crises should be rewarded when handing out tax-candy, but I’m reluctant to extend this favor to anyone on the public right-of-way in an automobile. The tires alone are drenched in crude-oil, figuratively and metaphorically speaking, no matter what fuel is being consumed. Again, also a few tons pounding the infrastructure as well. I certainly don’t mean to be obnoxious, but it’s been hard enough obtaining this benefit for zero-carbon, light-weight vehicles.

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  • Martha R October 1, 2008 at 11:22 am

    This is very exciting! I don’t think the 10 days/month should be reduced, since the whole point is to encourage bicycling by offsetting some of the costs associated with it (like raingear, fenders, and lights). If the credit were done on a month-by-month basis — i.e. you’re eligible for the tax credit for each month that you bicycle enough –then it might even encourage people to continue bike commuting through the dark weather days. Really, fall and winter bike commuting isn’t that bad once you have the right gear, but we need incentives to help people get over the mental block keeping them from trying it.

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  • G.A.R. October 1, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Would an electric bike qualify? (smirk)
    Skateboard? Inline skates? Walking? Walking on skates where the bearings have been glued solid? Unicycle? If a household has four people and they all bike to wherever they are going, does the household get to take a $60 per month credit? What about wheelchairs? What if I ride to transit? If I work two shifts and bike home in between them, have I done “two days”? What if I just *say* I rode to work?

    I’m rabidly in favor of bike commuting, but this credit is goofy and bike commuting has so much going for it already.

    The main thing is to get people out of their huge cars. How about this: All motor vehicles greater than 4000 lbs gross weight (or pick the number that includes all large SUVs) require a commercial driver license, which subjects the operator to random drug screens. License fees are higher for commercial, to pay for the drug screens. This part pays for itself.

    The other part, which is where we get to spend the money we would have earmarked for this tax credit, is that every city sets up a buffet breakfast on popular bike commute routes. Free breakfast if you arrive on a bike, courtesy of John Lim and the State of Oregon. In winter, breakfast is under cover. And it’s not just corn flakes. We get the guy in the tux to make crab omelettes to order and stuff like that.

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  • BikingViking October 1, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    I like this idea, my only concern is that people will say they biked into work when they did not to qualify for the tax credit. Then the Oregonian or Fox News or someone else does a story about the abuse of the system, this would be followed by a public outcry.

    Any ideas for how to do this without relying on the honor system? Perhaps require yearly receipts from bike-related businesses?

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  • Steve October 1, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    What a great idea, keep the minimums per month and let people claim the credit for months the meet minimums only. Just like any other credit, it is the honor system until you’re audited. Documention could be as simple as a form that both the commuter and employer sign every month stating the employee cycled the minimum required. I have system at work similar to this which, instead of a tax credit, gets me a gift certificate good at multiple bike shops in PDX. Ironically, these certs are considered taxable income.

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  • Gabriel McGovern October 1, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    @Bent Bloke,
    If you don’t bike in the winter then you won’t count the credits for those months. What’s the problem?

    Personally though a per day scale would be even better, since I bike almost every day. Per mile would be even better.

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  • whyat October 1, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I’ve been wondering for a while about a program like this. Many large vehicle drivers get tax breaks due to the ‘work’ nature of their vehicles. I have wondered, too, how this would be enforced. If it’s just something you can claim with out any proof then it seems DOA. I will be the first to admit that I am in no way a tax expert. Interesting story.

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  • whyat October 1, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Also agree with Gabriel McGovern about the daily scale as I am also a daily commuter.

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  • Brad October 1, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    How about a lower rate of personal income taxation for all workers and the elimination of credits, perks, and loopholes in the state’s tax codes?

    G.A.R. is right. Everyone who uses some form of “alternative” transportation could theoretically get on board thus watering down the intent and legitimacy of Lim’s proposal.

    Since the individual only sees $180 from this (assuming year-round commuting) I doubt that it will have any real impact on increasing riders and reducing cars. I do like his ideas about giving employers a credit for creating bike parking and rider amenities as that seems like a better inducement / reward for commuters and much easier for the state to verify in an audit.

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  • lothar October 1, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Yea..Vance is back! Let the “Cycling Dada Movement” continue.

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  • Matthew Denton October 1, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Some people will cheat with any tax credit, and that is pretty much to be expected. That is why the IRS audits people and catches them. So if you claimed the credit during the winter, but when the IRS agent showed up, didn’t actually own a bicycle or raingear and your office has a dress code, they might make you pay a penalty…

    I also suspect that this will be a supplemental form that won’t even be mentioned on the 40S, and so it won’t be like you’ll be able to find this credit unless you know to look for it…

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  • Joe October 1, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    I’m lukewarm to this.. how about dedicating 5% (or more) of transportation funds in urban areas toward bike facilities.. it doesn’t matter how much tax relief you give, if biking is perceived as dangerous to the average commuter, I’m not sure people will be so thrilled to receive $15 back per month to hop on their bike. That said, I’d favor any legislation that rewards good behavior such as bicycling.

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  • Anonymous October 2, 2008 at 11:59 am

    The government doles out those $3000 credits to people who buy hybrid cars. This is based entirely on the mpg arguement. They however do not give out such credits to those who use no gas, or less gas (such as scooters). Its about time this inequitable tax break started to get recognized and the people creating real change got theirs!

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  • John Mulvey October 7, 2008 at 12:57 am

    I appreciate that Rep. Lim is raising this issue, but be aware that the Representative often has these election-eve conversions. (Last time it was a last-minute pledge to support a single-payer healthcare system!)

    John Lim is a mostly-nice man but he’s too often been a pure shill for the worst of the Republican agenda… anti-choice, a mouthpiece for the tobacco and insurance industries… Last session Lim caused a scene on the House floor just to petulantly delay a vote on a health care bill for children.

    As a new member of the progressive majority in the Oregon House, the Democrat Greg Matthews will be able to deliver more for Gresham on biking and every other issue than John Lim ever has or ever will.

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  • Alice October 28, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Greg Matthews drives a Hummer.

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