NTEU calls on Congress to boost mass-transit tax benefit

Wednesday - 12/7/2011, 7:48pm EST

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

One of the largest federal-employee unions has called on Congress to pass new legislation to retain a pretax mass-transit commuter benefit, which is set to be cut nearly in half beginning in January.

In a letter to members of the House and Senate, National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said reducing the $230-a-month transit benefit would affect "tens of thousands of federal employees that rely on public transportation to get to and from work."

The transit benefit — which is about equal to the amount allowed for a parking tax benefit — will be reduced to $120 beginning at the start of 2012, unless Congress passes The Commuter Benefits Equity Act. That bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate earlier this year but hasn't left committee in either chamber.

Congress boosted the mass-transit benefit to its current level last December when it extended unemployment insurance and the payroll tax holiday. Both of those provisions are also set to expire at the end of this month, and have garnered much attention in recent congressional wrangling.

In the letter to lawmakers, Kelley said cutting the benefit would inordinately harm federal employees.

"Many of these employees, already subject to a two-year pay freeze, are struggling in the current economic climate, and a reduction in these benefits would impose a severe financial burden on them," Kelley said.

She also said the benefit has helped to encourage public-transportation use and that workers "using environmentally helpful mass transit should not be provided a lesser benefit than those driving and parking personal vehicles."