BikePortland.org

House passes bailout bill; bike commuter tax benefit becomes law

Blumenauer unveils Gas Price Relief Act-2.jpg
Blumenauer at the unveiling of his
Gas Price Relief Act, one of many
pieces of legislation that included
a bike commuter tax break
over the years.
(Photo: J. Maus)

What a long, strange trip it’s been for Congressman Earl Blumenauer and his Bike Commuter Act.

The House Democrat is a former City Commissioner of Transportation in Portland (1987-96) and he was at the helm during Portland’s Golden Age of biking — a time when we laid down much of our bikeway network infrastructure that is now the envy of many cities.

Blumenauer carried his commitment to biking into the halls of Congress and has worked the system relentlessly to pass bike-friendly legislation like the bike commuter tax benefit. Calling it a “matter of equity”, his idea is simple; give bike commuters the same respect and recognition in the tax code already given to folks that drive and take public transit.

This morning, the House voted to pass a controversial, $700 billion bailout package for Wall Street (263-171). In order to assure passage in the House (they rejected the bill the first time around), the Senate included a large package of “tax extenders” into the bill that they passed earlier this week. Among the tax breaks was the bike commuter provision.

“I’m disappointed that the Senate also added a number of provisions to the bill… which take us in the wrong direction in our battle against climate change… I will continue to fight to deal with the consequences of added debt and poor energy investment choices.”
— from Blumenauer’s official statement about the bailout

So, after seven years of toil, Blumenauer’s Bike Commuter Act is finally going to become part of the U.S. tax code, and because of the way Washington politics works, he was forced (by his conscience) to vote against it.

It’s too bad that it had to happen this way.

Not only is it part of a bill that many folks still think is a sham (another Oregon Democrat and ardent supporter of bicycling, Peter DeFazio, also voted “no”), but because it passed along with a host of other “special interest” tax breaks that had absolutely no connection to the accompanying bill, it will likely only add to the perception that the biking issue is just a silly piece of pork.

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— For full coverage of the efforts to pass the Bike Commuter Act, see the BikePortland.org archives.


UPDATES:
— Here’s an excerpt from a statement about his “no” vote just posted by Blumenauer:

“…There are some extremely important provisions in the bill for which I have fought during the past two years. For example, the bill extends the production tax credit for wind energy and investment tax credit for solar energy. It includes legislation I drafted to provide a tax credit for the purchase of small wind turbines. And it provides tax fairness so employers can offer the same transportation fringe benefits for bicyclists that they offer to employees who commute by car and public transit.

…The bad news is that, at a time when our national debt is at its highest point in over 50 years as a percentage of GDP, Senate Republicans chose not to pay for most of the good things in this bill. I�m disappointed that the Senate also added a number of provisions to the bill that will provide incentives for coal-to-liquids and oil-shale fuels, which take us in the wrong direction in our battle against climate change…

I will continue to fight to deal with the consequences of added debt and poor energy investment choices…”

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