Union renews call for extending mass-transit tax benefit

Tuesday - 1/31/2012, 10:13pm EST

The National Treasury Employees Union has renewed its call for Congress to pass an expansion of a mass-transit subsidy that expired at the end of last year.

The union said it supports passage either through a stand-alone bill or through a package of nearly 70 temporary tax breaks, known as extenders.

In a hearing Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee discussed extending 67 such tax measures, including an expansion of the mass-transit subsidy.

Up until the end of 2011, an expansion of the commuter benefit allowed travelers to set aside $230 in pretax dollars each month to pay for mass transit. That subsidy was roughly equal to the amount commuters were allowed to set aside for parking. However, the mass-transit benefit was cut to $125 a month at the start of 2012 because of an expiring provision, while parking benefits were slightly increased.

NTEU submitted comments to the finance committee calling the the renewal of the transit benefit "critical."

"Many working people that use public transportation to get to and from work, rely on the transit benefit which has provided much needed relief in their commuting costs," NTEU President Colleen Kelley wrote. "Many of these workers are struggling in the current economic climate, and a reduction in these benefits is imposing a severe financial burden on them."

Kelley also said it "makes no sense for the government to provide workers using environmentally helpful mass transit a lesser benefit than those driving and parking personal vehicles."

Last year, NTEU called on lawmakers to keep the expanded version of the transit benefit by passing a stand-alone bill,"The Commuter Benefits Equity Act," which would permanently place mass-transit and parking benefits on an even playing field.

That bill was introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has since called for the mass-transit benefit to be included in a payroll tax extension lawmakers on a House-Senate committee are now crafting, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

While many of the now-expired tax proposal can be extended after the fact and, theoretically, can wait until later in the year, Schumer said the transit benefit is "the hardest to go back and do retroactively," Bloomberg reported.

And the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), told Reuters it was unlikely Congress would renew any of the tax extenders before the November elections.

Late last year, a group of 22 senators called on the committee to extend the commuter tax subsidy, saying the cut in benefits would disproportionately affect federal workers.

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