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The Bike Tax
March 13, 2013 - John Stack
In Washington (State) the Senate Democrats have put forward a transportation package which includes a 5% sales tax on all bikes costing over $500. Rep Judy Clibborn, who helped craft the legislation, says she doesn’t agree with the bike tax, although she is the one who had it put in. Why? Because she claims she keeps hearing from constituents that bikers do not pay their fair share. As it would only raise about $1 million over 10 years, it was put in as a “symbolic tax”. A SYMBOLIC tax. What is that? It’s a $10 BILLION bill. In 10 years, this tax would raise 1/100th of 1% of revenue for this bill so politicians can show they made bikers pay.
This tax is such a bad idea, it could warrant a doctoral dissertation for an Economics student. Where do I start? But wait, before I do, the GOP wants to chime in. Of course, they must be against this tax. This tax hurts the little guy, your local shop owners. Where do most $500 plus bikes come from? Your local owner run bike shop (see Placid Planet and High Peaks Cyclery). It doesn’t touch the Walmarts and Targets, who sell basically NO bikes over $500. Heck, they probably WANT the tax so it will put the little guys under and take away some competition. Sounds like a slam dunk, right GOPer Ed Orcutt? “I am not a fan of much in the House Transportation tax proposal nor of many tax proposals, but I have to admit I think there are valid reasons to tax bicycles”. Cue Liam – “Really?” Unfortunately Ed is of the ‘bikers don’t pay’ brain worm style of thinking. He says “There is no gas tax – or any transportation tax – generated by bicyclist. Well, being in Seattle, he should know that less than 4% of the city DOT budget is paid by gas taxes. And most roads, specifically most bike lanes, are paid by municipalities and not by the state. These places get NO gas tax monies, so the local sales tax and property tax is how these are paid for, which, well, EVERYBODY pays for.
Its not just that Fast Eddie doesn’t understand how revenue is generated for the towns, cities and state. At least Clibborn admits she buckled to the morons who told her bikers don’t pay, so she threw them a bone (awful, stupid and rotten, but honest). Ed also says biking is bad for the environment. What’s that Liam? “Really?” Riding a bike is worse for the environment than a car? To quote noted biological and environmental wunderkind Ed Orcutt “You claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. If I am not mistaken, a cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration …results in greater emissions of CO2”. Unfortunately, Ed missed a report from the European Cycling Federation (ECF) comparing CO2 emissions of bicyclists versus cars (and Buses).
The ECF report was more involved than you would think. Not only did they take into account the amount of CO2 from riding, but also added in the CO@ in the manufacture of the bike and the incrementally more food eaten by a cyclist and its impact on CO2 emissions. Not surprisingly, a car emits more than 10 times the CO2 and other greenhouse gases than a cyclist. Although the report tried to adjust for variables we might not think of, wouldn’t you assume someone who does not work out much, doesn’t ride a bike, actually eats more than a typical cyclist? How many people use their bikes to do nothing more than to run to Mickey Dees to buy a Big Mac? Let’s check caloric intake of cyclists (who own bikes over $500) and drivers who don’t ride bikes.
Let’s also look at other economic impacts. In Copenhagen, a study showed an economic gain of $.42 b=per mile biked, and cars caused an economic loss of $.20 per mile driven. In Portland, a study showed that the city’s investment in cycling will save the city $388 to $594 million in health care by 2040. Taking the value of lives saved the cost goes into the billions.
These are all good arguments. To me though, if you agree that bicycling is something that should be encouraged, you should not actually tax something to make more people do it. Some of our biggest consumption taxes are on items that are bad for us, to actually discourage us from using more of it (a sin tax) such as a gas tax, a tax on cigarettes and a tax on alcohol are all examples of what a healthy positive tax does. What’s next? A tax on fresh fruit so that we can pay for more programs to get people to eat fresh fruits? You know what to say Liam “Really?”
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