4:00 pm Aug. 2, 2012
First came Chuck Schumer's tech-bus proposal, and now this: The senator announced today that the Senate Finance Committee had approved his proposal to resurrect a tax break for mass-transit commuters.
“It makes absolutely no sense to provide those who drive to work with a tax break and make commuters who use mass transit pay more," said Schumer, in a statement. "It’s an unwise and unfair disparity in the tax code and I intend to fix this inequity.”
According to Schumer's proposal, which was approved in committee as part of a larger tax extenders bill, people who use mass transit to commute to work would be able to deduct up to $240 a month from their pre-tax pay, the same benefit now accorded drivers.
The proposal would be retroacive to January 1 and extend through 2013.
Until this year, commuters were able to deduct up to $230, but thanks to a legislative impasse, the benefit expired, and it was reduced to just $125 a month.
So as matters now stand, commuters who drive cars receive a substantially higher tax break than those who use mass transit, thereby incentivizing car travel over mass transit.
Schumer's will no doubt play well to metropolitan-area voters, but it's not necessarily going anywhere.
Earlier this year, when Schumer tried to attach the provision to the surface transportation bill, the Republican-controlled House stripped it from the legislation. It's not all that clear why the House would respond differently this time around.
"House Republican Leadership has been opposed to this," said one Democratic House staffer I spoke with. "I don’t think they’ve said it outright, but they’ve refused to bring it up in the House, and resisted including it in any larger packages, including the transportation bill ... And there already is a bill by [Jim] McGovern that’s been around forever and has tons of cosponsors, so if they wanted to support a stand-alone bill they could have just pushed that one. Need I go on?"
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