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Blumenauer introduces ‘Green Routes to Work Act’

Posted by on July 22nd, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Bike to Work Day in Lloyd District -4

Blumenauer demonstrating one of
several green ways to get
to work.
(Photo © J. Maus)

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Green Routes to Work Act of 2009 into Congress yesterday.

The bill looks to promote “low-carbon” transportation options by providing tax credits for both employers and individuals.

In a press release about the bill, Blumenauer states:

“With global warming on the rise, and Americans’ waistlines ever expanding, it is time to level the playing field for transportation options that are clean, healthy, and save people money at the pump…

For too long, the federal government has supported commuters who drove to work but has not helped those who use other methods of transportation.”

Blumenauer’s bill looks to address that disparity by extending employer incentives to biking, walking, and telecommuting (a phrase which is garnering more and more attention in the sustainable transportation world).

Here are the specific incentives included in the bill (copied from a statement distributed by Blumenauer’s office):

  • Transit Equity: Increases the uniform dollar cap for all transportation fringe benefits to $230 a month.
  • Clarification of Federal Employee Benefits: Encourages the federal government to lead by example by ensuring that federal transportation fringe benefits are available to federal employees.
  • Self Employed Extension of Transportation Fringe Benefits: Allows individuals who are self-employed to receive transit fringe benefits for commuting done for work purposes.
  • Parking Cashout: Requires employers who offer a parking transportation fringe benefit to employees to also offer employees the option to take cash instead, reducing the incentive to drive instead of take alternative transportation.
  • VanPool Credit: Creates a 10% tax credit for expenditures on vanpool vehicles and services, which will provide an incentive for employers and employees to share their commutes.
  • Employer Credit for Providing Tax-free Transit Passes to Employees: Gives employers an up to 10% tax credit for the money they provide to employees as part of the transportation fringe benefits program.
  • Expenditures to Provide Bicycle Access: Encourages small businesses to provide for the growing interest in bicycle commuting by providing companies with a tax credit worth up to 50% of any expenditures used to make their business bike accessible.
  • MultiModal Transportation: Allows individuals to combine their transportation fringe benefits as long as they fall under the $230 cap (for example, individuals can use the $40 bike credit and still collect up to $210 of their public transit fringe benefit). This section recognizes that people rarely use one type of transportation only to commute: they use a combination of modes depending on the weather, their needs for the day and other factors. It also increases the amount which individuals can receive under the bike commuter benefit to $40. [This component of the bill was introduced back in March.]
  • Deductions for Expenditures to Remove Barriers to Bicycle Access: Allows individuals and business owners to deduct the costs of bicycle access improvements.
  • Teleworking Tax Credit: Creates a tax credit for qualified teleworking expenses for employers and employees (up to $400 per individual teleworker). Four to six million workers currently telecommute at least once a week, saving an estimated 840 million gallons of fuel.

This is the most comprehensive effort yet by Blumenauer to improve on the anemic bike commuter tax benefit that was passed back in October as part of Obama’s federal economic stimulus bill.

Blumenauer staffers tell us that, if the transportation bill moves forward this session, they’ll try and get the Green Routes to Work Act folded into the Ways and Means financing section of the bill. If not, they’ll try and find a home for it in another tax bill.

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    Joe Rowe July 22, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    On Saturday I’m going to the memorial service for a fellow who joined me in protesting Earl for his inability to even answer phone calls and questions on Impeachment. Bonnie Tinker was on her bike and crushed by a truck doing a right hook.

    This is for you Bonnie.

    These tiny tax credits would be nice if Earl was also looking out for the far larger items of waste in our national budget.

    It is rare for employees to get an employer paid bonus for parking or driving. Those rare folks can now get that for cycling/bus. Nice but small beans. zzzzzz

    What we really need is Earl to stop calling other people weasels and look in a mirror. That is where he will find our taxes could really be spent more wisely.

    a) Heath Care Reform. Call and ask Earl (503) 231-2300 why he is selling the insurance industry lie that “single payer can’t work”. Ask them to put single payer back on the table and prove that it can’t work with a budget analysis.

    b) Call and ask why he continues to fund a one Trillion dollar war in Iraq Afghanistan.

    here are 2 charts on the real tax waste Earl refused to stop with Impeachment: illegal war

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    grimm July 22, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Joe, I love your ability to pin the iraq war budgets on one oregon congress rep. I dont see a many of the 435 other members doing a lot to help the situation either. He cant fight all battles, and if single reps openly criticize the fed spending they are probably writing their own way out of politics. Somebody has got to help clean up the transit system to make it a healthier diet, im glad Earl is on our side.

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    Michael M. July 22, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Sigh. Has any congressperson from either party ever met a Federal boondoggle he or she doesn’t love to pieces, to the detriment of our ever-increasing tax burden, at least for those lucky enough still to have jobs? How high does the unemployment rate have to get before all these costly “fringe benefits” are eliminated? Why does Blumenauer want to ratchet up the costs of administering all these tax credits by creating more of them instead of eliminating the wasteful, regressive credits on the books and reduce taxes accordingly? This is meddlesome, expensive social engineering at its worst at a time when millions are unemployed or underemployed and struggling to make ends meet. I don’t want to be credited for making choices I would make anyway … I want a robust economy where people have a job to get to, however they choose to get there.

    Oh, and premising this on the notion that American’s waistlines are “ever-expanding” is a crock. Obesity rates have levelled off in the U.S. and in many other countries for the past several years, for adults and children.

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    joe adamski July 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I agree with Joe Rowes criticisms of Rep Blumenauer, but since this is not Healthcare Portland, or Stop the insane defense budget Portland, his criticisms are offtopic.

    That said, Blumenauer has been a constant voice for transportation cycling in Congress. I applaud his efforts over the years, and support this Bill. But if we remember the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoon..”I am just a Bill, sitting here on Capitol Hill”. Its not Law yet, it is just getting started, and would need a lot of support to happen.
    Representing your constituency requires you to do just that. Taking views that inflame or offend the majority of your constituents will make you just another one term wonder. Affecting change, especially on a National level means for the most part, toeing the Party line for the most part, and then breaking out for that issue you champion. Which means Rep Blumenauer probaby has held his nose while voting for something that he really doesn’t agree with personally.

    So, when the time comes to make your voice heard, do it. Regardless of the topic. I do not know if Blumenaeur reads BikePortland. I do know that he doesn’t make a stand unless he believes the majority of his constituents are behind him. So contact him with praise for the right, criticism for the wrongs. I would and do let him know when I disapprove. But I do also let him know when I believe he’s headed in the right direction, such as the Safe Routes to Work Bill.

    Safe Routes to Work would have far reaching impact on our daily lives, should it ever make it out into the light of day.

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    Jeff Bernards July 22, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    The listed benefits of biking: healthy, saving money, lower carbon footprint, could be obtained by just raising the gas tax and making car commuters pay the true cost of driving. The webtrends “should bikes pay” distorts the issues. Given the complicated formula’s for receiving a tax break seems like in the end it’s hardly worth the trouble.
    I would like to see bikes stand on their own, no tax incentives, the benefits alone should make biking enticing. The country is bankrupt, we need revenue, not tax breaks. Raise the gas tax, that will make all the benefit you will need as an encouragement to seek alternatives to the car.

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    Matt Picio July 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Earl’s got the right idea, but Jeff (#5) has a good point re: the complicated tax break formula.

    Jeff, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “pay the true cost” – that goes way beyond the scope of the gas tax.

    Halting new road construction would also help a great deal, but that’s out of scope as well.

    Joe (#1) – Bonnie Tinker’s death is a horrible, tragic thing, and using that to posture against Blumenaur is in bad taste to say the least. Shame on you.

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    are July 22, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    “and if single reps openly criticize the fed spending they are probably writing their own way out of politics.”

    yeah, like Dennis Kucinich. what a sad comment. if everyone has to come along, it is not courage.

    on the subject of Blumenauer’s bill itself (and why is the full text not yet available on govtrack or Thomas?) . . .

    parking cashout is good, credits for building bike lockers, etc. is good, multimodal is good . . .

    but equalizing the cap at 230 is an illusion, because a cyclist or light rail commuter is not going to spend anything like that amount per month. the incentives have to work to punish the choice to use a single occupant motor vehicle.

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    Mike July 22, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I think Earl’s got the right idea. He was one of only a few dozen congresspeople who had the guts to vote no on the Iraq war and the Patriot Act after 9-11-01.

    More to the point, I think it would be great if the government could do more to encourage bicycling to work. I’m all for it.

    I’ll also add that whenever I’ve called or e-mailed Blumenauer’s office I’ve always gotten through and been received professionally, so Mr. Joe Rowe I’m not sure what you’re doing wrong.

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    Donna July 22, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    While it’s certainly off-topic – Earl did consistently vote against the TARP bailouts. I can forgive a lot for that.

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    Joe Rowe July 22, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    If the goal is to cut rewards for people who commute alone in cars, there are far bigger laws to change, the gas tax being one. Our country and state are bankrupt and Earl is off topic chasing some small peanuts.

    I’ve got the right to connect his penny minded bill with the big dots on the budget. Earl is penny wise for bikes and pound foolish elsewhere.

    We’re broke because of the illegal wars, crazy defense budget, heath insurance lobby, weakening oversight of banks and our president, and soon there may be a $4 billion dollar CRC bridge that Earl never opposed.

    Attack me all you like Matt Picolo. You don’t know me or Bonnie, or the issues where we stood together. Why not talk about the issue of this bill and the context of related budget woes.

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    wsbob July 23, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Blumenauer has my respect and admiration for introducing this act. More people getting to work using their own leg power, mass transit, or car pooling means less oil dependency.

    I appreciate the efforts of people commenting on this thread to have a constructive dialogue about the details of this proposed act, despite others efforts to drown that constructive dialogue out. We hear you joe rowe…you’ve said your piece..people have read it and responded to you with respect. Perhaps you could extend the same respect to everyone else here.

    Joe Adamski’s (#4) thoughts about the challenges and dilemmas Blumenauer seem reasonable to me.

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    wsbob July 23, 2009 at 1:10 am


    Joe Adamski’s (#4) thoughts about the challenges and dilemmas Blumenauer likely faces in his job as a congressman seem reasonable to me.

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    Matt Picio July 23, 2009 at 5:59 am

    Joe (#10) – Calling out bad behavior is not an attack. Let’s talk facts rather than using emotion from an unrelated event to bolster one’s case.

    I acknowledged Jeff’s points. I’m not sure where this bill would have direct costs (a reduction in revenue is not a direct cost). I think that the intent of the bill is noble, and the bill’s purpose is plain – increasing the number of people on bikes. I’m all for that. I also think that it’s reasonable to adopt a bill with indirect economic costs in the form of lost revenue if the benefits of that bill outweigh its negative impact. Getting more people on bikes and out of cars will reduce wear on the roads, reducing repair/repaving costs. It will also reduce pressure on health care and have a number of hard-to-quantify beneficial effects.

    Does it make good fiscal sense? I don’t know. This government has been really free with the purse strings the last few months, and Blumenauer has certainly been a part of that, though by no means wholly responsible. He *is* our local representative, though – and those in his district who feel this is not the way to go should tell him that. Regardless of Blumenauer’s position, if enough of his constituents demand something, they’ll get it, or Earl will find himself out on the street.

    We as a whole are as responsible as Blumenauer is – regardless of whether we’re talking about impeachment, war, or single-payer health care.

    I have no problem with your position against Earl, and I think the causes are worthy – I just have a problem when you preface your remarks with a comment aimed to garner emotional sympathy by proxy. It weakens your argument, it’s disrespectful to the deceased and her family (your relationship to her doesn’t change that), and at least in some cases it turns people off to your message.

    That message is worthy, but I think you need to work on your delivery. I admire and appreciate your dedication, your hard work on CRC and holding people’s feet to the fire – please continue, people who actually step up and do the work are unfortunately rare.

    Apologies to everyone else for the bandwidth used on this, I won’t be adding any more comments. Thanks.

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  • […] Oregon Rep Blumenauer Introduces "Green Routes to Work Act" (Bike Portland) […]

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  • […] US Rep Blumenauer introduces ‘Green Routes to Work Act’ to Congress BikePortland […]

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    Mike July 23, 2009 at 10:17 am

    RE: #10

    Your “connections” aren’t there and you should stop using this forum to attack Earl. This is hardly about the bill that Johnathan is blogging about.

    As some others posted, I would also like to see the cap for personal, motorized vehicle transportation substantially lower than public transportation and non-motorized transportation, in recognition of the fact that our current use of personal motorized vehicles is bad for America and must be quickly changed.

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    BikingViking July 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

    One of the biggest “hidden” subsidies to car use is free parking. Think about your place of employment. Unless you work downtown or perhaps the inner east side, chances are your office building is smaller than the surrounding parking for employees. That means your employer has to pay for twice as much land as they would otherwise, whic means less revenue for the company.

    I don’t agree with all of Earl’s positions, but the “cashback” option for not using a parking space could have large ramifications down the road. Were I in the US House, I’d vote for this bill just for that clause alone.

    PS- point of disclosure. My father claims that Earl Blumenauer stole his girlfriend back in high school. So perhaps I’m a little generous to the man. Had he not stolen that girl I might not have been born!

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    Opus the Poet July 23, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I’m with Earl on the cashback for parking too. Here in TX we have a 30-40% share of commercial space devoted to parking instead of actual buildings for people to buy things in. If we could get 50% of the required parking in the form of bike racks that would open up an additional 20% of commercial real estate to actual sales tax generating activity instead of just places to put cars.

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