Oregon has yet to collect a penny from a pioneering tax on bicycles to pay for infrastructure, and already at least one lawmaker from another state is thinking about getting into the act.
Which is exactly what Jonathan Maus, who founded and edits the blog BikePortland.org, feared would happen.
“Now that this Pandora’s box of taxing bikes — from one of the most bike-friendly states in the country — now that that’s out in the open, well, now obviously a lot of other states are going to do that,” Maus said Wednesday. “This is what states do: They look at what other states are doing to raise funds. They’re definitely going to try it.”
He thinks the motive behind the bike tax is emotional, not financial.
“This is like a culture war kind of thing,” Maus said.
Earlier this month, the Oregon state legislature voted to slap a $15 surcharge on the purchase of bicycles that cost $200 or more. On Wednesday, Colorado state Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican who is the assistant majority leader in the Colorado General Assembly, was pledging to follow Oregon’s trail, coloradopolitics.com reported.
“We will be proposing something similar, they use the roads also,” the website quoted the senator as saying, citing his Facebook page.
Oregon’s bike tax was part of a bipartisan, $5.3 billion package to modernize transportation and transit over the next decade. Initially, the funds from the bike tax were to go solely to bike-related infrastructure such as bike lanes, Maus said. In the final version, the funds will be used for bikes and pedestrian projects.
Pedal pushers were still trying to decide whether Oregon’s tax measure signaled a potentially positive development or a setback in the continuing culture clash between bikers and cars.
Positive as in, while nobody likes to pay any kind of tax, the surcharge at least suggests that maybe bicycling has become entrenched in the culture as a smart, ecological and healthy alternative to the car, whether for work or play.
Negative as in, this is a legislative slap from lawmakers who represent all those drivers who honk like crazy at the sight of a bicycle in their lane. It’s just another zing from the car culture that defiled the planet and despoiled people’s health, and collective payback for every bicycle that’s rolled through a stoplight without stopping.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) — whom BikePortland calls “the face of bicycling in Oregon” — told the blog, in essence, that the tax is a sign that biking has grown up. Blumenauer told BikePortland that the imposition of the tax will effectively neutralize the complaint that bicyclists “don’t have skin in the game” — i.e., a stake (and thus a voice) in making decisions about transportation policy because they don’t pay for the system the way motorists do, such as through the fuel tax.
“I think this is a really great opportunity for the cycling community to take a step back and think about the bigger picture,” Blumenauer told the blog.
But Bill Nesper, interim executive director at the League of American Bicyclists, said taxing bikes is not only a bad idea, but it’s one that’s been tried before with limited success, usually under the guise of registering bicycles. If anything, Oregon is going in the wrong direction, and he worries that other governments are all but sure to follow.
“Why aren’t we incentivizing bicycling?” Nesper asked. “I think as a policy, having a bicycle tax is troubling.”
BikePortland’s Maus said he believes the real impetus seems to have been the desire by some lawmakers to satisfy the resentments of motoring taxpayers so that a larger menu of taxes and fees would be more palatable.
“ ‘It’s maybe time to get back at those damn bicyclists,’ ” Maus said, channeling their thinking.
To him, the bike tax is an embarrassment to Oregon, whose biggest city — Portland — is routinely ranked among the nation’s top 10 biking cities by Bicycling magazine. Maus expressed annoyance, too, that bicycling organizations didn’t stand up more loudly and strongly against what he said is a false narrative — that bikers don’t pay their fair share. Look at the huge subsidies, hidden and otherwise, he said, that governments at all levels pour into the automobile — a mode of transportation that has fouled the air and sucked oil from the Earth wherever it’s been found.
“Cycling is something we want as many people as possible to do,” Maus said. “The idea of basically putting what amounts to a sin tax on that behavior is really ridiculous.”
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