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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Omnibus bill includes transit-commuter tax benefit; increases funds for FTA, FRA


The $1.1 trillion Omnibus Appropriations bill for federal fiscal-year 2016 that Congress passed last week includes a permanent extension of the transit commuter benefit, an increase in funding to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and funding for various transit-rail and port projects.

Under the budget, the commuter benefit increases from the current $130 to $250, rising to $255 in calendar year 2016, according to an analysis by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

APTA has long advocated for a permanent extension of "parity" for the transit commuter benefit. Section 105 of the bill features the "Extension of Parity for Exclusion from Income for Employer-Provided Mass Transit Parking Benefits," which increases the amount an employer can offer to employees either as a tax-free fringe benefit or as a pre-tax option in order to pay for their transit commuter costs to and from work, according to APTA.

The change, along with a cost-of-living adjustment under an IRS code, will equalize commuting costs between car-commuters and transit-commuters, marking "end to the annual fight to restore parity to transit commuter tax benefits," APTA officials said in a statement posted on its website.

The budget bill also increases FTA's funding by $870 million to a total $11.8 billion, APTA officials said. FRA's funding will increase $52 million to a total $1.7 billion.

Various transit agency and port officials also have been unveiling budget bill benefits for their organizations. Among them are:
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). The bill secures $250 million in funding for two major rail projects Metro is building: The Regional Connector and sections one and two of the Westside Purple Line Extension. The dollars "will ensure that Metro can continue to successfully expand our rail network across Los Angeles County," said Metro Chairman and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in a press release.
• The South Carolina Ports Authority. The legislation provides funding for the authority's 52-foot Charleston Harbor Deepening Project, which has entered the pre-construction engineering and design phase. The harbor is being deepened so that it can accommodate fully loaded post-Panamax container ships, said Jim Newsome, the port authority's president and chief executive officer, in a press release.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/21/2015