“Symbolic” bike tax proposed in Washington should sound familiar

North Portland Bikeworks new location-11-10
Don’t forget to add tax.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Seattle Times reported today on a $10 billion transportation funding package introduced by state lawmakers. The package includes a provision that would levy $25 tax on the sale of all bicycles over $500. The tax would be one of six revenue streams and would be expected to raise a mere $1 million per year.

Interestingly, a bike sales tax is not a foreign concept here in Oregon. In fact, it has been supported in the past by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Metro, PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller, and even Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

According to the Times, the Washington bike tax was included in the proposal merely as a “symbolic” gesture. Since the funding proposal includes a gas tax increase and a motor vehicle excise tax (0.7%), we assume the bike tax is included to show the public that everyone will pay.

The Cascade Bicycle Club, the state’s largest bike advocacy group, doesn’t like the package. They are mostly against its highway-heavy project list; but they also — not surprisingly — oppose the bike tax. Here’s an excerpt from their blog post about it today:

“The package’s proposed bike excise tax ($25 on sales of bikes costing more than $500) would harm hard-working small business owners. Most such bikes are sold by small family-owned bike shops and this would impose red tape and costs for them while creating virtually no revenue.

People who bicycle already pay substantial taxes for our transportation system, including the sales taxes, property taxes and federal taxes that together cover two-thirds of all transportation spending in Washington. Bicyclists who own cars also pay the same car tabs as everyone else even if they drive less.”

In 2008, as part of a transportation visioning committee hosted by then Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. One of the ideas that came out of that committee was a, “point-of-sale excise tax on the purchase of adult bicycles should be used to enhance bicycle transportation, including Safe Routes to Schools.” The idea was supported by the BTA; but it never went anywhere.

Then a bike excise tax idea reared its head in Portland again in 2010. PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller told The Oregonian that he supported an excise tax because, “There’s a symbolic value to cyclists paying.”

Even Congressman Earl Blumenauer has spoken in favor of a bike sales tax.

When we put the question of a bike tax to readers in 2010, nearly 200 of you responded. The majority were opposed to the idea.

With the transportation revenue debate raging, and with Washington’s bike tax on the table, I won’t be surprised if we hear about one proposed in Oregon sometime soon.

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