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Vitolo bill to expand commuter tax benefit passes as part of broader tax package

The Massachusetts State House. Photo by Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons
October 2, 2023  Updated October 3, 2023 at 8:56 p.m.

A bill shepherded through the State House by Brookline Rep. Tommy Vitolo will expand commuter tax benefits to more than just car drivers and frequent MBTA riders.

The current $750 tax deduction is available only for commuters with a $22.50 MBTA weekly pass, a $90 monthly pass or drivers using an E-Z Pass. Now, through a bill passed last week which was written by Vitolo and Watertown Rep. Steven Owens, eligibility will expand to more occasional MBTA riders, bicyclists and regional transit riders.

“It’s about sending the signal that in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we want to be treating all commuters fairly,” Vitolo said in an interview. “We’re not going to prioritize those who drive ahead of those who get to work in other ways.”

Commuters have to spend a minimum of $150 to be eligible for the deduction, so riders using the T only once a week at $2.40 each way can now qualify, expanding the benefits to shift workers and remote workers, Vitolo said.

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The bill also extends the deduction to users of the Bluebike bikeshare system, which offers passes from $120 a year and up, and even people who ride their own bike, as well as riders on the 12 regional transit authorities, including MetroWest, Merrimack and Lowell.

“If you ride your bicycle to commute sometimes and take the T sometimes, and you occasionally use your E-Z Pass, you can combine all of these different kinds of expenses together,” he said.

A headshot of Brookline State Rep. Tommy Vitolo.

Tommy Vitolo

Vitolo said the bill isn’t intended to encourage riders to drive less. The actual savings from the bill can be up to $37.50 a year, effective Jan. 1, 2023.

“If you don’t have a lot of money, that’s real money,” he said. “If you’re living comfortably, that probably isn’t going to change your decision.”

The legislation was passed as part of a $1 billion tax relief bill that was approved overwhelmingly in the Massachusetts House and Senate this week, which also included an increase to the rental deduction cap and an additional child care credit. Gov. Maura Healey is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

The tax bill also increases the Massachusetts estate tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million, which Vitolo said will help middle class residents in Brookline.

“They’re not the rich and powerful. They’ve got an apartment on Babcock Street.” he said. “There’s so many people in Brookline whose home was worth more than $2 million and certainly with estates more than $2 million, and I’m perfectly happy with them continuing to pay some tax.”

Vitolo noted that many of the tax relief measures go into effect in 2026, while his commuter transit deduction bill can be applied to taxes to be filed for 2023.

“We want to treat people fairly and that means making sure that the commuter benefit applies fairly across all of the different kinds of commuters,” Vitolo said. “That’s a really important signal of our values.