Transit benefit reaches parity with parking benefit, plus other new laws

Array

Transit users whose employers provide pre-tax benefit programs stand to pay less taxes in 2012 and 2013. Photo by Erin Nekervis. 

January 1st always comes with new laws. This January 1st was a little different than most in that the United States was closing in on the “fiscal cliff”. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 is expected to be signed into law by President Obama and includes provisions that raise taxes on a majority of Americans, and prolongs extended unemployment benefits, among other changes to the tax code. A major change, fought over for years by sustainable transportation advocates, is the coming yearlong parity of the transit commuter benefit with the parking benefit. These two programs deduct the cost of a monthly transit or parking pass before calculating taxes owed (“pre-tax benefit”).

The American Public Transportation Association released a statement:

For 2013, there is no longer a financial bias in the federal tax code against public transit use. This has always been an issue of fairness, and public transit advocates are pleased that the federal tax code will again provide transit riders with the same tax benefits according to those who drive to work.

The change will be retroactive to January 1, 2012, so workers whose employers implement this program will be able to receive tax benefits for any passes they purchased through the program last year. Unfortunately, the benefit expires December 31, 2013. This isn’t the first time that the transit commuter benefit will expire while the parking benefit remains. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA 2009, also known as the “stimulus”) raised the transit commuter benefit from $120 to $230 per month, but that expired on December 31, 2011. The parking benefit remained at $230 per month.

Continue reading Transit benefit reaches parity with parking benefit, plus other new laws

flattr this!

Open thread: Should the Illinois legislature grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants?

Array

Photo of Wacker Drive traffic in Chicago by John Iwanski. 

The Illinois legislature is expected to consider a bill to allow people here illegally to obtain a driver’s license after going through the same procedures as people who are currently allowed to obtain a driver’s license (exams and fees, etc.). The bill is still being drafted.

This is an “open thread”, designed to spark a discussion. I’ve attempted to present all the latest news and facts on this issue, but I’ve not found any opposing viewpoints except for a debate in Michigan (see Further reading at the end). 

On Friday, November 16, the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board called for legislation to be passed, citing these benefits:

  • To get the licenses, illegal immigrants would have to pass the same vision, written and road tests as someone getting a regular license. If that leads to more driving training, it could make the roads safer.
  • Police officers making a stop would know who is driving the car. With the threat of deportation lessened, illegal immigrants would have less of a motivation to leave the scene of an accident.
  • Families would be less likely to see a family member deported after a routine traffic stop.
  • Health care providers would have an easier time identifying patients. If an illegal alien with contagious spinal meningitis goes into a coma, for example, it’s difficult to identify the patient’s contacts, who need to be treated. A visitor’s license would make that possible because it would contain personal data.
  • Backers of the measure say New Mexico experienced a huge drop in the number of uninsured drivers after licenses were made available in 2003. That doesn’t square, however, with numbers from the Insurance Research Council, which lists New Mexico as the state with the second-highest number of uninsured drivers. But if granting visitor’s licenses persuades even some illegal immigrants to get insurance, that could lower rates for all of us and benefit accident victims.

Continue reading Open thread: Should the Illinois legislature grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants?

flattr this!

ATA calls for bill to boost transit funds by indexing the gas tax to inflation

Array

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke at this morning’s event in Pritzker Park. Participants are holding Riders for Better Transit signs.

This morning Active Transportation Alliance held a press conference to announce that the advocacy group and its partners are introducing legislation in Springfield that would raise the state gas tax and index it to inflation. Under this initiative, called Transit Fast Forward, the tax hike would apply only in the six-county Chicago region, and the extra revenue would be used solely to increase funding to the CTA, Metra and Pace.

The new legislation, Senate Bill 3236, is sponsored by State Senator Martin Sandoval, a Democrat from Chicago. Active Trans estimates the hike in state gas taxes in Chicagoland would only be .4 cents per gallon in 2013, costing an average family an extra $4 for the year. But the result would be an estimated $11.6 million in new transit funding next year, and a whopping $168 million increase in funds over the next five years. Continue reading ATA calls for bill to boost transit funds by indexing the gas tax to inflation

flattr this!

Tell Senate to pass clean extension to surface transportation bill

Updated September 16, 2011: Senate passes the bill. Now waiting for President Obama’s signature. Via Transportation 4 America

Array

Photo of two Metra trains at Clinton Street by Eric Pancer. 

The House has passed a “clean extension” (the eighth one) of SAFETEA-LU on Tuesday, September 13, 2011. That’s the legislation that collects the 18.5 cents per gallon federal gas tax and distributes it to road, transit, pedestrian, and bicycle projects around the country. It’s already passed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, but not yet the full Senate.

A “clean extension” means extending the existing legislation without amendments. Now’s not the time to debate amendments. Congress has had over two years to do that. They need to extend the legislation and then work faster on creating a replacement bill for surface transportation that reflects our nation’s current priorities, as the extension would only last until March 2012.

Additionally, some Congresspersons desire to remove a piece of the surface transportation legislation called Transportation Enhancements. This is a subsidiary funding mechanism that is often used to build bicycling trails, sidewalks, crosswalks, and more. (Bike lanes in Chicago are majority funded by grants from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality subsidiary funding.)

For more information, stay tuned with Active Transportation Alliance and Transportation 4 America.

You can get involved now by calling Illinois Senators Dick Durbin (312-353-4952) and Mark Kirk (312-886-3506).

Lastly, there’s a rally in Chicago next week, on Tuesday, September 20, at Union Station, to show your support for transit.

flattr this!

Transit reform really just transit features

Array

Riders on this bus will have access to new, to the region, features that make taking transit more convenient and pleasurable. Photo by Eric Pancer.

Governor Quinn’s office issued a press release last Thursday calling House Bill 3597 “major transit reform legislation.”

What he signed into law today was not reform, but a package of new, “cool” features that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace – collectively called the service boards – are now required by law to implement.

This post is a summary of the legislation he signed today. Analysis of the universal fare system will be published later on Grid.

Continue reading Transit reform really just transit features

flattr this!