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Congress Passes Commuter Act

Published October 2, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC (BRAIN)—Employers of people who bike to work stand to gain a $20 per month tax credit per cycling employee, according to the final version of the Wall Street bailout bill, H.R. 1424, passed this afternoon.

The House passed the bill today with a final vote of 263-171, a comfortable margin that was 58 more votes than the measure garnered in Monday's stunning defeat. The Senate passed the bill Wednesday by a vote of 74 for and 25 against the bill.

The bicycle tax provision was part of an additional $110 billion in line items added to the already $700 billion bailout package.

What does bicycle commuting have to do with credit issues or covering the debt racked up on Wall Street? Bicycle commuting advocate Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic Representative from Oregon, was one of the 228 Representatives who voted against the House version of the bailout package on Monday. House members looking to pass a bailout bill needed to convince as least 12 of the dissenters to switch their position and vote for a bailout bill.

According to a Blumenauer spokeswoman, the bicycle commuting tax credit had the Representative’s attention, according to a report by www.govexec.com. However, Blumenauer said he was opposed to the bill because it failed to include bankruptcy equity for homeowners, not because employers of bicycle commuters suffered unfair tax burdens. He is also against incentives for coal-based liquids, tar sands and oil shale also included in the Senate’s bill. Blumenauer voted against the bailout bill in today's vote but his pet bicycling project passed with it.

Congressman Blumenauer spearheaded a seven-year campaign to extend commuter tax benefits to those who bike to work.

Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, said the Bicycle Commuter Act has been held up getting through with previous bills.

“It’s been attached to a variety of different bills or devices—climate change, energy, transportation,” Clarke said. “It’s ironic that it would wind up in a financial rescue package, but we’ll take it. I’m not going to quibble with the method; I’m glad to see it done.”

The employer tax break is laid out in Sec. 211, “Transportation fringe benefit to bicycle commuters," which is under the Transportation and Domestic Fuel Security Provision section in H.R. 1424. The $20 a month tax relief per bicycle commuting employee is to cover the cost of any employer reimbursement for reasonable expenses incurred by the employee “for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment.”

"It's definitely a day to celebrate just this one little thing that has been achieved after seven years," Clarke said. "It may not be a total game changer—it's still a relatively small break—but it gets us closer to the kind of treatment that cyclists in the U.K. and other parts of the world have had for years."

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