Chuck Schumer on Transit: I’ve Got Your Back, Fairfield County

schumer_nature.jpgSchumer in Chautauqua. When was the last time you saw Chuck with a majestic cityscape behind him?

New York’s senior senator threw suburban train riders a bone yesterday, announcing that he’s secured a tax break for transit commuters in the Senate version of the stimulus bill. The Daily News reports:

The provision would raise the monthly cap on mass transit commuting
costs not taxed by the federal government to $230 from $120.

A
commuter in the 30% tax bracket with mass transit costs of $230 a month
could see annual savings double to about $1,000 from about $500,
according to Larry Filler, president of the nonprofit TransitCenter.

This is great if you ride to work on the LIRR or Metro-North. But what if your transit commute already costs less than $120 per month? New Yorkers who ride the subway or the local bus to work — millions of Schumer’s constituents — get nothing out of this deal. Express bus riders, who pay $41 for an all-inclusive weekly pass, get next to nothing.

As for maintaining service and transit jobs in the face of sweeping cuts to New York City’s system, Schumer’s proposal is utterly useless.

Schumer has the opportunity here to speak out for straphangers in New York and around the country by calling for transit operating assistance to be included in the stimulus package. His erstwhile junior colleague, Hillary Clinton, introduced a bill in the Senate to fund transit operations back in the summer. Over in the House, Oregon’s Peter DeFazio made an all-out effort to get operating assistance into the stimulus bill — going so far as to criticize the president’s top economic adviser on national television — before ultimately falling short.

Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer brags about helping Westchester, Nassau, and Fairfield, while leaving commuters in the five boroughs to fend for themselves.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “A commuter in the 30% tax bracket with mass transit costs…”

    It doesn’t do much for those in the 22.5% tax bracket either (15% plus 7.5%). In the Clinton era, there have been lots and lots of policies via tax breaks, which provide more benefit the more you earn — but phase out at the upper incomes.

    The Republicans may be the party of the rich (and redneck suckers) at this point, but the Democrats are the party of the upper middle class yuppies who are shrewd enough to get a good deal for themselves and only pretend to be worried about others. The greatest benefit matches up with the upper salaries in the public and non-profit sectors, and solidly earning lawyers.

    Hey Democrats, I want universal health care finance at the federal level, with an equal level of benefit to those of similar ages and health conditions, through a choice of public and private plans.

    Not the current tax exemption for employer-provided health insurance, which is also worth more the more you earn, and tax-funded gold-plated benefits for public employees and retirees. By the new federal budget this October. Or else.

  • Larry Littlefield

    By the way, I LOVE the way this blog slaps the purportedly egalitarian Democrats from the left and the purportedly free-market Republicans from the right. What a bunch of entitlement serving future destroying frauds they are. Keep it up!

  • Michael Steiner

    the tax deduction also goes only to commuter whose employer offers CRA, not all commuters. It’s a mystery to me why this has to be bound to the employer and cannot handled as in most places in europe where it is handled by the (auditable) honor system of the employee declaring how he commutes on the tax form, completely independent of the employer. More fair and much less overhead …

  • Larry Littlefield

    This program isn’t just an INCOME tax deduction. By having the money not counted as income at all, it is also exempt from the PAYROLL tax, including the employers’ share. Otherwise, it would be even more inequitable than it is.

    But the complication does make the bicycle benefit not quite worth the hassle.

  • Yeah, it doesn’t do much. But for the little good it does, it doesn’t do any bad, either, does it?

    Yes, we should be demanding from gov’t big and fast changes that help people choose transit. But small as this step is, it is only forward, not backward.

    I got my own issues with Schumer, but not many relate to Streetsblog type issues.

    As Streetsblog, at the center of the growing usa.streetsblog.org, becomes more and more something that policy makers hear from and about, I wonder if the agenda might be better served if the editorial voice eventually becomes a little less snarky towards policy makers who are making a good effort, at least in their own yet-unenlightened Washingtonian minds.

    Go ahead, Flame-on.

  • Two problems with Schumer:

    1) He helped Phil Gramm repeal FDR’s Glass-Steagall Act, contributing mightily to the current financial crisis. Of course his buddies on Wall Street made sure he was well compensated with bribes, oops I mean perfectly legal campaign contributions.

    2) He has consistently taken his city base for granted while tailoring every aspect of his take on transport issues toward “the Baileys,” his mythical suburban couple. He assumes liberal Dems like me will just keep on voting for him no matter what.

    Well, I’ve had enough and I’m looking for an alternative. I will vote for any Democrat who runs against Schumer in the primaries as long as he/she is some kind of sentient being on urban issues. And when it comes to the general election, I’ll be looking to third party candidates. If necessary, I just won’t pull the lever for senator at all.

  • oscar

    Schumer also gave us torture loving Michael Mukasey.
    I would love to see him primaried. He is a fraud

  • Mark, I agree with you on all of that. And I swore never to vote for him after he voted to authorize the Iraq war. I won’t complain about commenters’ remarks about people like Schumer. I was just making a suggestion for Streetsblog’s contributors and editors to consider. A “catch more flies with honey” sort of thing.

  • Rhywun

    I only vote 3rd party. Which means I don’t pull very many levers here in NYC. The comments about Schumer taking his base for granted are spot-on. Democrats have been doing that for too long, saying some of the right things and then turning around and helping the cronies instead, and I for one got sick and tired of it and stopped voting for them.

  • Thanks for the feedback ddartley. I’ll tell you why I don’t think this qualifies as a good effort from Schumer, even though it may do no harm.

    He could have slipped this in as a rider on the bailout bill, like Blumenauer did with the bike commuter benefit. But now, if Schumer is putting time and effort into tax breaks for suburban commuters, that’s coming at the expense of more important fights. Even if he doesn’t have enough juice on his own to get transit operations into the Senate stim bill, he should be making noise about it, like DeFazio. If New York’s senior senator won’t turn it into an issue, who will?

    As things stand, this press he’s getting about making the fare hike go down easier is undeserved and should be countered.

  • I could be wrong, but I bet it’s been some time since Chuck got on a bus or a subway, especially since Mrs. Schumer stepped down as NYC DOT Commissioner two years ago.

  • Would you believe that while making my comment above, I wasn’t remembering just who Schumer’s wife was? Thanks for reminding me, Eric!

  • BicyclesOnly

    The critique in the post is worth making, but it bears mention that the increase in the transit commuter tax break would give transit commuters parity with the parking tax break the motorists get. Far better that Schumer fight to eliminate the car parking tax break, but I’m just saying.

    And oh yeah, aren’t there a few urban dwellers sharing the surplus of tax-advantaged transit benefits with family members (especially if they’re bike commuters), or selling them on the grey market to friends at a discount from face value but a mark-up from the tax-free effective cost to them?

  • BicyclesOnly is right. You can easily get a voucher from your employer for the $222.50, the cost of two $89 unlimited monthly-ride metrocards and a senior-citizen unlimited ride reduced-fare card.

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