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Blumenauer legislation would bulk up and clear up bike commuter benefit

Posted by on March 12th, 2009 at 12:52 pm

National Bike Summit - Day three-10

Rep. Earl Blumenauer at
a reception this morning
on Capitol Hill.
(Photo © J. Maus)

When the Bike Commuter Benefit Act passed back in October, it was somewhat of a shallow victory for advocates who had pushed for its passage for seven long years. Not only did it pass as a ploy to build support for the controversial financial bailout bill, the “benefit” it provides is small ($20 per month compared to $230 for parking a car and $120 a month for taking transit), and the implementation has been the source of massive confusion to HR people across the country. Worse yet, the Bike Commuter Benefit Act included language that required bike riding employees to choose between the bike benefit or the transit benefit.

Now, Congressman Earl Blumenauer has introduced a resolution (H.R. 863) called the Multimodal Commuter Credit that he hopes will clean up the existing law.

The new legislation will allow employees to receive a combination of the bike and transit benefits up to the currently monetary cap of the transit benefit. The legislation also will allow employers to administer the benefit exactly the way existing fringe benefits are administered, thereby clearing up much of the confusion over implementation of the current bike commuter benefit.

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Blumenauer announced the legislation at this morning’s kickoff of the Capitol Hill lobbying day here at the National Bike Summit.

According to a one-pager about the new resolution, Blumenauer’s office says that the language to allow combining of transit and bike benefits is needed because many commuters “use multiple forms of transportation in their journeys,” and that, by allowing employees to choose only one commuter benefit to use, “the program does not currently recognize these realities.”

Here’s more about the proposed legislation from Blumenauer’s office (emphasis mine):

“According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, bicycles are second only to cars as a preferred form of transportation, and ahead of public transportation, however many bike commuters may not be able to ride every day because of inclement weather. Alternatively, many commuters need to bike a short distance before reaching a transit station. This legislation recognizes that employees should be able to structure their commute benefit to match the practices they use to get to work.”

If passed, the Multimodal Commuter Credit (which its authors describe as being “smarter”, and “more flexible”) would amend the IRS code to receive transportation “fringe benefits” for the same month both in the form of transit passes and reimbursement of bike commuting expenses.

Essentially, this resolution is a clean-up measure meant to correct errors made when the Bike Commuter Act was first passed. I asked Blumenauer’s bike policy staffer Tyler Frisbee why it couldn’t have been done right the first time.

Frisbee said the reason is that it was passed as part of the financial bailout package, “instead of a more orderly process.”

It seems like what Blumenauer is doing here is fixing errors made by the committee that rushed it into the financial bailout package without full knowledge of how it should be administered. In addition to cleaning up the existing law, perhaps this is Blumenauer wanting to put his name on a bill that he worked so hard to pass, only to have it finally get through on a larger bill that he actually voted against.

Perhaps this resolution should be known as the Blumenauer Amendment.

This story is part of our special 2009 National Bike Summit coverage (sponsored by Planet Bike). For more coverage, follow BikePortland on Twitter and browse the latest photos in our Bike Summit photo gallery.

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    chuck March 12, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Here’s hoping they can clear that up a bit. I wonder if the new resolution will still make you use those wacky coupons.

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    Scott Mizée March 12, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    YAY! happy to see this. from the description, it sounds like it will fix a lot of the problems with the original bill…

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    Todd Boulanger March 12, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Since there is an historic inequity of benefit between [car] parking and taking transit (and now bicycling) to work.

    If this cannot be fixed…how about allowing a buffet of options per week/ month? For those who are willing to give up their dedicated DAILY paid parking stall for biking, waling, busing, plus an occasional driving/ carpooling – a combo plan benefit could be developed.

    For example, Bikestation could park your bike on most days while giving you an occational bus pass or car parking voucher…allowing more transportation flexibility and sharing transportation resources vs. locking us into 1 flavour. Then the user would get the full tax free benefit (up to $230 per month) – which would include all of the modes plus a bike repair or shoe repair, etc. as needed.

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    Jebus March 12, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    In the mean time, how do we take advantage of this now? What do we tell our HR dept. in order to use the transit or bicycle breaks?

    I love riding the half mile to work every day, but the 43 line goes straight from my house to work every day so I have no problem using it for the tax break.

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    RyNO Dan March 12, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    My work-place instituted this “benefit” no problem. But as far as I can compute, it only puts $80 extra dollars (after tax) in my pocket per year. Not worth the time/energy.

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    Jebus March 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Dan, if it only takes mentioning to the HR dept., $80 is still 10 gallons of homebrew… sounds worth it to me!

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    Joe Rowe March 12, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Let’s learn from what happened a few days ago. Earl and his cheerleaders just got the slap in the face. The Mt Hood bill failed. Long story.

    Earl ignores what his constituents want and goes for strategy. Problem is that his strategy is all bad bets.

    Too many cyclists are drinking Earl’s Kool aid on these small peanut issues. A $230 commute cred is not causing bankruptcy for families, medical costs are!

    I’ve been calling the last 4 weeks to ask why Earl will not join 90 house members in sponsoring HR 676 on Single Payer Heath care. Each week they say call next week.

    Earl and his staff don’t have the guts to explain why they don’t like HR 676 or really anything. His press releases are all double speak.

    call Earl (503) 231-2300

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    are March 12, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    while it is true that earlier versions of the bill introduced by Rep. Blumenauer over the years did not have a lower dollar limit than the commuter benefit generally, and did not exclude the multi-modal reumbursement, the fact is that the bill Blumenauer offered last year that ended up getting put in with the bailout bill
    did have a fifty dollar limit and did include the multi-modal exclusion. so let’s not take this “committee rushed it through” business at face value.

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    are March 12, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    oh, and it also had that constructive receipt thing in it, which his new bill would also get rid of. long story short, everything the new bill tries to correct was in H.R. 6495 exactly as Blumenauer proposed it last year. it is good he wants to correct it now, but this is not something that “happened” to his bill in “committee.”

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  • […] it becomes reality. You can also find him on Twitter as @SprawledOut.Elsewhere around the network: Bike Portland covers Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s call for a strengthening of the bike commuter tax benefit; Bike […]

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    Joe Rowe March 13, 2009 at 9:59 am

    This tax credit is a waste of time in this time of nation wide crisis. While the kids and house are burning, Earl is in the garage throwing water on his bike.

    One major reason for the huge increase in unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcy is the insane cost of both heath care and heath insurance, which fails to cover much these days.

    Earl thinks he’s great for getting a $230 tax credit for one percent of his district voters. YAWN.

    90 House members have co-sponsored HR 676 and Earl will not give any reason why he won’t support it. Try calling and the only answer you get is to call back in a week.

    Earl (503) 231-2300

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    HERB WILLIAMS March 13, 2009 at 11:47 am

    The issue is: this Law was written with no plan and real benefit analyst, which is using the bike community to do some political grand standing. I think we need to do a better job in this department as a group.

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  • […] working to expand and update the benefits by introducing a resolution (H.R. 863) called the Multimodal Commuter Credit to reflect how many cyclists also use public transit on a daily basis. Blumenauer, addressed us on […]

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    Stefanie March 16, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Just fyi: the transit benefit is the same as the parking – $230/month. The inequity of the old benefits was fixed in the stimulus bill.

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