Back in June, the resident Libertarian crackpot our local cycling list (actually, that would be an insult to Libertarians, so let's just call him a crackpot) had this to say:
If I read the last message [...] correctly, there might be a $20./mo tax benefit from riding a bike to work? As if that could be checked or enforced? But regardless, just think of the small percentage of American tax payers even able to take advantage of such a "special interest tax break"! Indeed, this isn't one to "big business"—"big farmers"—"big universities"—or other bignesses—but, folks, let's be consistent—this is an unfair special interest tax break under the guise of "social engineering."
Usually I know better than to feed the trolls, but I couldn't let the less-informed think that such was the case:
Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the federal tax code. Other commuters already enjoy the benefit of tax breaks to cover the cost of commuting. Transit, vanpool and (drumroll, please) parking are already covered. And guess what's more? Their monthly benefits are far higher:
Up to $105/month for transit expenses;
Up to $105/month for vanpool expenses; and
Up to $205/month for parking at or near an employer’s worksite, or at a facility from which employee commutes via transit, vanpool, or carpool
Kinda makes 20 bucks a month seem paltry, doesn't it? This may indeed be "social engineering," but not really in the direction you were thinking.
And no need to take my word for any of this of course. Just Google Section 132(f) of the federal tax code or "Commuter Choice Tax Benefit," or check out this handy table.
Personally, I think tax breaks for bike commuting are every bit as worthy as those for transit, vanpooling, and even park-and-ride costs. Unfortunately, House Republicans were having none of it. According to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA):
[...] Mr. Speaker, [this energy bill] gives a tax credit to people for riding their bikes to work. I am sorry, but gas prices and climate change aren't going to be fixed by making people ride their bikes to work. This isn't a plan to make America energy independent and to free us from foreign oil. It is just a dream for the political left in this country. And let me repeat, Mr. Speaker, it raises taxes, it is anti-nuclear and anti-dams, it forces people out of their cars, and gives tax credits for riding their bike to work.
I find it creepy that Doc somehow knew it's been my longstanding ambition to boot hardworking Americans out of their cars by day while cuddling and spooning Fidel by night. The Honorable Doc's collegue Rep. John Boner (R-OH) made similar claims in his speech on the house floor.
Maybe they're right. Maybe bicycle commuting won't solve America's energy problem. So if only we could harness the hot air they produce to generate electricity. Perhaps they could even reduce our carbon footprint by shoving lumps of coal up their puckered Republican pooholes and waiting for the inevitable diamonds to form. Talk about killing two birds with one stone— we could become energy independant, sequester untold tonnes of carbon, and become the world's leading diamond exporter.
The cruel irony here is that the Hummer loophole remains in the legislation:
[...] the bill failed to kill the special federal tax deduction for Hummers. And Yukons. And Suburbans. Any SUV big enough to get single-digit city mileage is deemed a work vehicle, and anyone smart enough to claim a business use (think real estate sales or a hair salon) gets a tax deduction for buying one, up to $100,000 (yes, you read that right).
So realtors and dentists can still write off their Escalades and Armadas. Good for them. What mystifies me is that the passage of this bill is somehow viewed as a victory by environmental groups. I just don't see it. Sure, there's an increase in CAFE Standards, but it's so modest that it's the moral equivalent of doing nothing.
By not owning a second car, I'm already saving way, way more than what the tax benefit would have offered. So the Feds can keep their crumbs as far as I'm concerned. The real lost opportunity in this is for bike shops, who might well have gained something in sales and service revenue. All the more reason to visit the LBS...