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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Even bike blogs in DC talk wonky

[Edit -- since this post, this bill did indeed stall, and has now been reintroduced, click here for the details on the new, more ambitious bill]

Both you regular readers are probably wondering, "What's that gobbledy-gook feed you plunked into your already ugly blog?" It's a status update on the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008, which passed in the House, and is coming up for Senate vote soon.

Who cares? Bike commuters should, because buried within the bill, is an extension of the transportation fringe benefit allowance (the reason nearly every Federal employee in the area gets those $100 in Metro cards every month that occasionally end up on eBay) to bicycle commuting. Rep. Blumenauer of Oregon (of course) has been quixotically championing this issue for years.

Obviously, it would be a great thing for the larger "us" of cycling. But for the small business "us" that pays me every two weeks, allowing companies and Government agencies (there's a few of those around here) to give a non-taxable commuting subsidy for bike commuting would probably bring quite a few people through the store doors.

What are the chances? Well, this bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Legislative Purgatory in the past. This time round, it is tucked it into a bill that would repeal oil company tax credits, and use the savings to fund alternative fuel research. So nobody will oppose it, and it should fly right through the Senate. Yes.

By the by, Tom Davis of Virginia's 11th (Fairfax, Springfield, Potomac Millsville), Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland's 6th (northern Maryland), Frank Wolf of Virginia's (Herndon, Winchester, Sterling), and rural Virginia's voice-of-tolerance, Virgil Goode of the Charlottesville area, are among the local-ish reps who voted against it.

I'm not going to get my hopes up, but I'm also going to write a letter to my senators. Hope you'll do the same. Unless, of course, you're in DC. Like City Bikes. Disenfranchised and it feels so good.


dcdouglas said...

This is all well and great, but what does it do for us Government employees who already bike commute to work and forgo their $100 subsidy?

darren said...

Good question -- all this change would do is change the tax code to say that if your employer *chooses* to reimburse your bike commuting costs, you can't be taxed on it. So, a progressive employer, like Calvert Funds or whoever, could start reimbursing anyone showing receipts for tires and tubes, and the recipient and payer wouldn't have to worry about income tax withholding issues.

For the Fed Gov't, this would be Step 1 in you getting a subsidy (not necessarily $100 though) for bike commuting. The transit subsidy program took years to implement after a similar tax code change was made for mass transit reimbursement. Then, the funding... Presumably, additional funds would need to be found by each agency, since as you state, bike commuters must currently forego transit benefit reimbursement.

Another big obstacle would be agency admin and implementation -- each agency would need to set up policies and programs to allow you to claim some sort of reimbursement for commuting expenses. See that GAO report I linked to (that my wife actually co-authored), there's a lot of concern over controlling those reimbursements.

And finally, somebody (OPM? GSA?) would probably need to come up with a uniform definition of allowable bicycle commuting expenses.

It's a tougher nut to crack than the current mass transit program. And again, this bill has been bumping around for at least 3-4 years.

manwithface said...

This would be fantastic. At the National Institutes of Health the commuter club has set up a nice program with Proteus Bikes and The Bicycle Place (MD) where for every 100 miles commuted on your bike you get 5 "bike bucks" that go towards purchases at the store. It's not much but makes commuting just a bit more fun. Would be great to get real bucks for commuting!

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