Jan. 06--NEW HAVEN -- Congress should restore a tax break for rail commuters, which was recently cut by almost half, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and others said at a news conference at Union Station on Monday.
The benefit, provided by employers, is paid in pre-tax money to workers. Those who ride Metro-North or Shore Line East had their benefit cut from $245 to $130 per month as of Jan. 1, while those who drive got an increase to $250.
"Extending the rail commuter tax break is absolutely necessary to our thousands of Connecticut commuters who rely on this benefit not only to lower their taxes but (to enable) them to commute to work in a less expensive way," said Blumenthal, D-Conn. "The net effect (of the cut) ... is to encourage people to drive rather than ride the rails."
Blumenthal was joined by Mayor Toni Harp and Jim Cameron, former chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. The tax benefit is part of a tax extenders package being considered by the Senate. The bill that Blumenthal is co-sponsoring would extend the benefit through 2014.
"In effect rail commuters are going to suffer a double whammy," Blumenthal said, because rail fares rose 5 percent at the first of the year. If the commuter benefit is passed, rail riders' taxable income would be reduced by as much as $1,380 per year. In addition, "We will save ourselves from more road congestion, pollution of our air" and other negative effects, Blumenthal said.
Harp said, "Senator Blumenthal's initiative has great meaning in our city ...working toward a collaborative project to revitalize Union Station and the surrounding neighborhood." Plans are in the works to add a second parking garage and create retail and housing in the Church Street South area. She called rail travel an "economic engine for the businesses we see in this area."
Cameron called Metro-North "the most expensive commuter rail service in the United States. To commute from New Haven to New York City on a monthly basis costs $458." So even a $250 tax break doesn't cover the cost.
We are "pricing ourselves out as a place to live," Cameron said, suggesting people will move to Westchester, Long Island or New York City rather than pay the price of commuting. He said Fairfield County residents pay 40 percent of all taxes in the state and losing many of those taxpayers "would be a real loss."
Blumenthal also said, "the economic benefit is really to the state as well as to business, because businesses lower the costs of their employees coming to work."
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