Tax break for transit commuters extended in bill
A tax break for MARC and other transit riders that had been imperiled in earlier versions of the tax bill making its way through appears to have a good chance of staying alive -- at least for another year.
Paul Dean, director of government relations for the American Public Transit Association, said the version of the tax bill the Senate voted on today includes a continuation of the benefit at its current level. Without the provision, the benefit would be cut roughly in half as of Jan. 1.
The benefit allows transit riders to pay up to $230 in transit fares each month with pre-taxed dollars. That amount was raised from $120 in President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill, but that provision had been on the chopping block until House and Senate negotiators agreed to write a one-year extension in the bill continuing the tax cuts implementred under President George W. Bush, Dean said.
Dean said the benefit was raised for transit riders to make it equal with a similar provision that applies to workers who pay for parking.
Some early versions of the bill excluded the extension of the benefit. But Dean said a group of senators -- including Maryland Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin -- sent a letter to the negotiators urging retention of the benefit.
The benefit is especiallly important to users of commuter rail, who tend to pay higher monthly fares than users of other forms of transit. Terry Owens, a spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, said more than half of MARC riders benefit from the break.
For transit customers who pay $230 or more each month in fares, expiration of the provision would mean that $1,320 more of their pay would be taxable each year -- costing them several hundred dollars.
Dean said he hopes transit riders will continue to weigh in with their members of Congress to support the benefit, noting that the bill could be changed in the House.
Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said his group and other organizations representing users of other commuter railroads are joining forces to press for retention of the tax break.