Provisions of the long-sought Bicycle Commuter Act are included in the $700 billion financial bailout bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday night.
The bicycle commuter measure provides a tax benefit to employers who offer cash reimbursements to employees who ride their bicycles to work. It was pigeonholed after it was first introduced in 2005, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Portland and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon reintroduced it in 2007.
It appeared dead in the water again this fall, until it suddenly appeared in the Senate version of the bailout bill along with other tax breaks worth $108 billion for businesses and families.
The bicycle commuter act is small in comparison to the other “sweeteners” as it's estimated to cost $10 million. It was probably added to the new version to make the bailout more palatable to Blumenauer, who voted against the original bailout on Monday.
The House of Representatives, which originally defeated the bailout package, is expected to vote on the Senate version on Friday.
The group Taxpayers for Common Sense was one of the first to catch sight of the bicycle commuter provision. It's listed under Section 211 of the bailout bill. The taxpayer group summarized it:
Sec. 211 — Transportation Fringe Benefit to Bicycle Commuters
Allows employers to provide a benefit to employees for costs associated with bicycle commuting, including purchase and repair of a bicycle, bicycle improvements, and bicycle storage. This provision was proposed in 2007 in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and in the House by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). This provision is estimated to cost $10 million.
News sources are reporting that many House members who voted against the original bailout may be more willing to vote in favor of the Senate version with its added tax breaks. It could attract up to 100 GOP votes.
Fiscally conservative Democrats in the House are angry about the new bill because they have argued for months that the tax breaks should not be extended at the expense of increasing the federal deficit.
Looking at the votes, you have to wonder if someone added the Bicycle Commuter Tax provision just to squeeze Blumenauer.
The Portland Democrat voted against the original version of the bailout bill. Now he'll be faced with a financial bailout bill that just happens to include his pet project.
Blumenauer is quoted Thursday afternoon at Politickeror.com:
“Knowing what I know now in terms of our economic situation and with this bill in its current form, absent some dramatic change in circumstances, I have no plans to support the bailout legislation. I continue to think that we need more protections for taxpayer and bankruptcy fairness which will do more to stop the free fall than anything else.”
For a history of the bicycle fringe benefit, see “How you can help the Bike Commuter Act.”