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


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

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


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?

Would residents of northeastern Illinois tax themselves for transit?


Mayor Emanuel shaking hands at the 95th Street station, the current terminal on the Red Line Dan Ryan branch. Photo by slow911.

Rahm Emanuel said he would help the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) find whatever money possible to fund an extension of the Red Line’s Dan Ryan branch to 130th Street. That project will have four new stations (view map); the construction will most likely be majority paid for by the federal  government (the capital costs). But the federal government won’t pay for the CTA’s new costs from operating the extension. Or any operating costs (note 1). The CTA and Mayor Emanuel are also pursuing bus rapid transit (BRT), a faster moving bus route. Continue reading Would residents of northeastern Illinois tax themselves for transit?