Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

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

This would negatively impact bicycle-exclusive and outdoor equipment stores vis a vis large chain retailers, which would not be particularly supportive of independent retailing and building a local economy.

Fifth, rather than complain about bike excise taxes and subject bicyclists to criticism that we aren't interested in paying "our fair share," it would behoove us to come up with the right and better agenda for promoting biking for transportation/sustainable mobility as a part of taxing and other government  policy and action.  A bike sales excise tax is but one element. 

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 

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At 3:08 PM, Blogger Mesa Cyclist said...

While I'm personally still on the fence on this I thought you might be interested in some cyclist support:

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wow. Great piece. Obviously, similar thinking to mine, much better detail on the excise tax and the process in place now which supports the LWCF (which is a good thing).

Please feel free to keep me updated with other good/informative stuff from Greater Phoenix. (I used to get the e-letter from the AZ Republic but it stopped for some reason and I can never get it back.)

The way that Tempe in Motion works has been a big influence on my thinking on various transportation matters.

Best wishes!

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the basic problem is not that it's bad to pay for the stuff YOU use- its bad when you pay and tax money goes into a "general fund" as it would wind up doing in DC-then get lost- and we'd likely not see results from any of it-this is why I am against it. The funds must be dedicated & directly specifically 100 percent to have my approval. never happen I the district of Columbia-it would go to help Mendo pay for teenage terrorists to ride the metro for free or something retarded like that. Or to pay for fare gate jumpers on metro

At 7:43 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I didn't get into detailed discussion of how the Land and Water Conservation Fund works, how it's funded. That's exactly how it works. It funds trails and other work across the states. Ideally, such fees would be dedicated to bike projects.

Frankly, it's not really an issue. Most major jurisdictions already spend a reasonable amount on bike facilities, far more than would be collected from such taxes anyway.


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