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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Peddling Pedal Power to Congress

Air Date: Week of October 31, 2008

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Congressman Earl Blumenauer, representing Oregon’s 3rd district.

A last-minute addition to the bailout bill is good news for bike commuters. The Bike Commuter Act makes cyclists eligible for up to $20 per month in tax credit for commuting-related expenses. Living on Earth host Bruce Gellerman talks with Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the original sponsor of the bill, about why he voted for the bike commuter bill before he voted against it.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.

Earl Blumenauer has spent the last seven years in Congress peddling an idea whose time has finally come - a 20 dollar a month federal tax credit for commuters who bike to work. The Oregon democrat, founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, saw his bike bill become law as part of the 700 billion dollar Wall Street bailout - but no thanks to the Oregon democrat. He voted against the bailout - and his own bill. Earl Blumenauer joins me by phone from Washington. Congressman – thank you!

BLUMENAUER: Absolutely my pleasure.

GELLERMAN: So how does it work? You bike to work and you get a savings on your tax?

BLUMENAUER: Well currently the tax code enables an employer to favor people who drive to work by giving them free parking, a value of over $2,400 a year. And it’s not a taxable benefit. You can get a transit pass and get over $100 a month tax free. But if you are burning calories instead of fossil fuel, that all comes out of your own pocket, and if your employer would give you some money to offset the costs, that would be taxable to you. We’ve changed the law, finally, so that the employer can give you $240 a year, tax free, to offset the real costs of bike commuting. It’s much less expensive than driving a car, but it’s not free. Bicycles cost money, there’s bicycle maintenance. Some people need shower facilities. Or, I’m from Portland, Oregon where it rains all the time, so we need rain gear. All of these would be eligible expenses that the employer could offset with no tax consequences to the bike commuter.

GELLERMAN: And it was your bill.

BLUMENAUER: It was indeed.

GELLERMAN: Now Congressman, you opposed the bailout bill, right?

BLUMENAUER: I did.

GELLERMAN: So you voted for the bicycle commuter tax credit before you voted against it.

BLUMENAUER: [Laughs] You could say that, yes. Each time that it passed the House – it actually passed the House five different times – it was part of important energy provisions that I’ve worked for, dealing, not just with bicycles, but with solar and wind energy, for instances. But they didn’t add to the deficit. They were paid for, as the term goes. This massive addition to the bailout bill added a hundred billion dollars to the deficit and frankly, I didn’t feel comfortable with the bailout provisions, because as it was being explained to Congress and the American public, it was too much for the wrong people to do the wrong things. So I ended up voting against a bill that contained some things that I have fought hard for.

GELLERMAN: How many members of the Congressional Bike Caucus?

BLUMENAUER: Well we have over 200 members now. It’s “bike-partisan” I will say. It has both Republican and Democratic members. And we’re promoting sound policies for improving cycling.

GELLERMAN: Boy, if you put a Democrat and a Republican on a bike built for two it would be one of the few times they’d be going in the same direction.


Congressman Earl Blumenauer represents Oregon’s 3rd district.

BLUMENAEUR: [Laughs] Well said. What we find, actually, is that everybody has a bike story. It’s been fun. I started the Bike Caucus when I went back there, because it was pretty partisan. Not very pleasant at times, but when we worked together on cycling legislation, it wasn’t so much red state, blue state, liberal, conservative. We were able to find Republicans who would work with us, for instance. In the last transportation bill, we had a safe routes to school program, two thirds of a billion dollars to help kids be able to walk and bike safely to school on their own. Which is helping to fight childhood obesity, traffic congestion around schools, and obviously to save energy.

GELLERMAN: Boy, it gives new meaning to the idea of peddling power on Capitol Hill.

BLUMENAUER: [Laughs] Absolutely.

GELLERMAN: Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer is the founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus and the principal sponsor of the bicycle commuter tax credit.

 

Links

Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s website

To learn more about the Bicycle Commuter Act, check out the American League of Cyclists’ website

 

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