President Obama signed today (December 17, 2010) the controversial tax-cut compromise into law, now that the House and Senate have both voted in favor of the bill. That means the transit benefit extension, hidden inside the $858 billion package, will become law as well. Your calls and emails made a difference!
Nearly four years ago, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced a measure to offer tax parity for commuters on different modes. ““It’s time for mass transit commuters to get some respect,” he said. “It’s time to level the playing field between commuters who use mass transit and those that drive alone. It’s time to fix a tax structure that penalizes mass transit commuters.”
The time didn’t come for another couple years, when the stimulus went into effect, including a $230/month cap for tax-free transit benefits (up from $120/month.) But now that transit riders have been enjoying the savings for a couple years, they were loath to give them up while drivers were allowed to keep theirs.
Now they won’t have to.
Transportation News from Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday, December 8, 2010, the U.S. DOT announced that they will redistribute the high-speed rail funding originally designated for Wisconsin and Ohio to other states. California will receive up to $624 million of the $1.195 billion, along with a dozen other states. <a href=”http://dc.streetsblog.org/2010/12/09/ohio-wisc-rail-money-to-be-transferred-to-13-other-states/> DC Streetsblog has an article with a photo of an entertaining billboard here.
The funding levels will remain essentially the same as before, with a few key exceptions:
- High-speed rail funding for FY2011 is $1 billion, down $1.5 billion from $2.5 billion in FY2010.
- Approximately $600 million in unobligated earmarks will be rescinded. According to Streetsblog DC some earmarked funds may be redistributed from highway programs to recreational trails, Safe Routes to School, and metropolitan planning programs.
- While the overarching HUD program that funds Sustainable Communities was cut by $200 million, it appears that the Sustainable Communities grants are still funded and the cuts are coming from other programs. The Senate must take up the budget in the next week, to avoid a government shutdown on December 18 - Senate Appropriations Chair Daniel Inouye (HI) wants to replace the Continuing Resolution with a FY2011 omnibus budget package, so this is not exactly a done deal. T4 America will be focusing on restoring high-speed rail funding in the Senate’ action. Read T4 America Director James Corless’ statement on the Continuing Resolution here.
Finally, THANK YOU to everyone who pitched in on the Commuter Benefits Equity Act on Tuesday by signing on to the letters to Pelosi and Feinstein, and/or made phone calls to the Speaker’s office. We are still waiting to hear what happens with the tax package, as the big debate is about the tax cuts which will determine whether any package is passed whatsoever (and T4 does NOT have a position on the tax package itself).
Continued calls or letters to Nancy Pelosi’s office are still timely -please continue asking your supporters to send personal emails to the House and Senate via the action alert webpage here
If you didn’t see it, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front-page story on the transit benefit situation on Monday.
Please let me know if you have any questions or further information - look forward to talking with you next week!
Northern California Field Organizer
Transportation For America Campaign