Oregon's excise tax for bikes: bring it on!
Update: Great piece with a similar argument, from the Tempe Bicycle Action Group, "On Portland’s Bike Tax & Pittman-Robertson (But for Bicycling)"
From the conclusion:
I’ve long thought that the cycling industry should employ the strategies and tactics that the hunting and firearm industries use. This is a simple persuasion play using their exact tactics – we pay for our own stuff and thus we deserve it. This is so powerful that it cannot be outflanked and there is no city department or politician who can say you don’t get use your ear marked tax dollars. It was so successfully in the hunting industry that, 13 years after it was passed, a similar law was passed to benefit fishing and the fishing industry begged for it to pass!=======
The cycling industry can lead the way here. However, it will take a leadership change along with advocates who understand that most of the arguments against cycling are based on perception. Instituting a C-PR type bill would immediately swing the tide in transportation funding and wipe out the largest perception: Cyclists don’t pay their way.
The recent tax on bikes in Portland has immediately put the cycling community on the same plane as motorists. Some say the the tax was instituted as a punitive measure by non-cyclist groups intended to punish cyclists – even it it is, it was a grave tactical error. We’ll soon see whether the business owners and advocates in PDX embrace their new found power or continue to look this gift horse in the mouth.
I consider it hypocritical to advocate for stuff like bicycle infrastructure or arts facilities and not think about how to pay for it.
WRT arts and cultural facilities, I've written about this extensively and am a fan of systematic tax assessment districts (sales and/or property) creating arts and parks districts that function at the metropolitan scale, such as the Huron Clinton Metropolitan Parks Authority in Southeastern Michigan, the Regional Asset District in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, the Zoo, Arts, and Parks Tax in Salt Lake County, Utah, and the Science, and the Science and Culture Facilities District in Metropolitan Denver.
The advantage of metropolitan scale funding streams is that typically major arts anchors are located in the center cities, but many of the attendees come from the suburbs so a metropolitan rather than a city-exclusive tax makes funding more congruent.
I am not a fan of "sin taxes" on tobacco to fund the arts, like what Cleveland does ("Cigarette tax helps arts achieve twice the attendance," Cleveland Plain Dealer) because the tax doesn't target likely users of what the funding stream will support.
Today's Washington Post has a story ("Bicyclists fear that Oregon's controversial bike tax could spread") about Oregon's new excise tax on bicycles making the point that anti-taxers and some cycling advocates don't favor it.
First, I'd say the excise tax on bicycles isn't a lot different than the stream of taxes on fuels and outdoor equipment that fund certain land and water conservation activities or excise taxes on cars or gasoline.
Sure, excise taxes on cars should be a lot higher than they are to better compensate for the costs imposed on government for maintaining the road network. The same goes for gasoline taxes, which I have written about ad infinitum.
Second, although you can make the argument like how there are tax credits for renewable energy, electric cars, etc., to encourage and incentivize optimal behavior and consumer choices, bikes shouldn't be taxed because as a choice of transportation, it is an almost incalculably better form of transportation compared to motor vehicles.
Third, the last thing I'd want to do is call myself an intellectual hypocrite, the way I criticize arts groups that seek exemptions from admissions taxes on tickets for performances while asking for public funding.
Anti-tax advocates are lying if they state their arguments are about government overreach because they don't appear to be concerned much about or believe in "society" as a separate from government, and how government is the means by which we organize to provide "public goods." Instead, they abhor people coming together to fund projects that improve quality of life calling it a form of "collectivism."
It's hard to come up with many situations when I would be on the same side as such folk. This isn't one of them.
Fourth, I do agree it won't raise much money, and that makes it questionable. Yes, it's more likely that the tax was created as a sop to motordom, as many motorists complain about bicyclists not paying their fair share for roads, forgetting the reality that since half the cost of roads are paid by general funds, bicyclists do pay their fare share anyway.
Frankly, given that I purchase a new bike only every 7-10 years, I can't see this being a huge funding source. But every little bit helps. (Actually, an excise tax on tune ups would probably raise more money.)
And by having a $200 floor at which the excise tax would be imposed, too much money would be left on the table, because most bikes sold at discount stores like Walmart or Target cost less than that.
Target Weekly Ad, 6/18/2017
Here is a by no means complete but bigger set of issues where I would like to see action by federal, state, and local legislators:
- Higher federal and state/local excise taxes for motor vehicle purchases
- Getting higher commuter tax benefits for biking as right now it is $20/month, versus $255/month for transit or parking
- Allowing the combination of transit+biking benefits to be used together, rather than forcing a choice of one or the other, which would be particularly useful for bike sharing
- Payroll deduction plans for buying bikes (the UK does this)
- Creating a national system of "versement transport" (transit withholding) taxes, like France (a form is used in Oregon and in Greater New York City
- Reducing local taxation on car sharing (When Sharing is Taxing: Comparing the Tax Burden on Carsharing in Major U.S. Cities, Chaddick Institute of Metropolitan Development, DePaul University)
- Higher prices for residential car parking permits
- requiring that bikes typically used for transportation have as original equipment on the bike, front and rear lights
- create a standard for turn signaling lighting for bicycles and include such lights as original equipment