Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bike Tax - Dumb Idea

This week the democrats in the Washington State house released a new transportation plan. In it, the proposed bill would put a $25 dollar tax on bike over $500 dollars. It is a bad idea on so many levels I am not really sure where to begin.

Let start with the idea of the tax being a way for cyclists to pay "their fare share". This is a stupid and dangerous notion. The roads are a public service available for all. This is just the same as the service provided by the police or the public school system. Making the link between tax payments and road usage only encourages the asinine idea that some people deserve to have more right over the roads because they pay more in taxes. Imagine not being able have all your kids go to public school because you don't live in an affluent zip code? Or the police not arrest your assailant because you didn't pay enough in sales taxes? Public services don't and have never worked that way. Roads are a public good that everyone can use, regardless of how much any specific user pays in taxes. The government needs to be out front in making sure that all road users understand this. Hiding behind a $25 fee is an abrogation of that responsibility.

Beyond that, the way the fee is implemented is idiotic. Users like myself who build their own bikes would likely not have to pay anything. Someone who buys a decent downhill mountain bike however would have to pay this fee, even though that bike will never ride on public roads. It seems like this fee is designed to punish small bike shops. For a businesses that make vary narrow margins they can ill afford the fee or giving their customers one more reason to buy out of state, online, or not at all.

What does this tax get for cyclists? According to the plan, nothing. Specifically "0%", really 0.6% (about $60 million out of the $10 billion plan) will be spent on improving cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure. The majority of the money will be spent on highway and freeways, which cyclists aren't allowed to use. Remember, this is the state transportation budget. Most of the cycling infrastructure comes from the city or local government budget.

There you have it. The new tax is likely to shut down small businesses, tell drivers they own the road, and do nothing for cyclists. This will bring in a whopping $1 million dollars in revenue. Most of which I imagine would be spent on administration costs for the new tax. Well done. Well done, indeed.

But I have a plan. Scrap the $25 fee and add a checkbox to the motor vehicle registration form. Have it say "I would like my registration fee to go to bicycle improvements". You see, most cyclists do own cars as well. I have to pay to register my van regardless of how much I use it. That said, I would much rather see money spent on making new bike lanes than on new freeways. If just 1% of the state would check that box the amount of money raised would be around $20 million dollars. That is twenty times what the bicycle fee would raise. If the point of the whole thing was to show that cyclists pay their taxes like everyone else, what better way. It would be yearly proof that people who own and pay for their cars would rather bike.


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