Friday, December 17, 2010

Transit Benefit "Parity" Will Continue for one more year

Today or tomorrow, Pres Obama is expected to sign an $858 billion package of tax cuts and extensions into law. While some provisions of this legislation, such as the extension of unemployment benefits, and a temporary rollback of payroll taxes for Social Seucrity, will be noticed by almost every working and non-working person, there is at least one nugget of news for the transit community.

Sec. 727 of the tax relief bill continues the temporary "parity" of tax-favored transit benefits for one more year, through December 31, 2011. This means that employers can continue to provide tax-free transit and vanpooling benefits of up to approximately $230 per month under Section 132(f) of the Internal Revenue Code. This is the same as the amount of tax-free parking benefits employers are allowed to provide.

Prior to enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), transit benefits were capped at an annually adjusted rate that was approximately half the value of allowed parking benefits. ARRA provided a temporary increase for transit, but this going to expire this month, and the transit benefit would have reverted to an estimated $120 per month, were it not for this legislative action.

Other aspects of the "tax relief" bill may be noticed in some corners of the transit community. There are extensions of the Work Opportunity Credit and New Markets Tax Credits, which can facilitate employment of certain populations and tax-favored investments in economically distressed areas, respectively. Some "post-Katrina" and "post-9/11" tax credit programs also are extended. On the other hand, the "Build America Bonds" program created under ARRA is not being extended, and new bonding will come to an end this month.

In other news, Senate efforts to pass a comprehensive "omnibus" appropriations bill have fallen apart. Senate leaders are regrouping, to see what next steps to take. Since the current continuing resolution expires this weekend, some action is imminent, but it's hard to gauge whether the next legislation will sustain government spending for a few days, a few months, or the remainder of the current fiscal year.

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