Without a single word of debate, the nine members of the Joint Committee on Transportation voted in favor of an expansion of Oregon’s bike tax that will result in it covering more children’s bicycles. (UPDATE: As of Saturday, March 3rd the full Oregon House and Senate passed the bill with a total vote margin of 70-10. The bill now awaits Governor Brown’s signature.)
“I think we were discounted and undermined in this portion of the conversation from the very beginning.”
— Gerik Kransky, The Street Trust
House Bill 4059, a package of amendments to the transportation bill passed last session, whizzed through the committee at a work session last night with a vote of 9-0. As currently written (and in effect for the past two months), the tax has two main provisions: It applies to new bicycles with a retail price over $200 and a wheel size of 26-inches and larger. The amendment passed yesterday removes any mention of wheel size from the law so the tax would now cover all new bicycles sold in Oregon over $200. The change was requested by the Department of Revenue in order to simplify the collection process and clear up confusion they claim to have heard from bike shop owners.
During debate over the transportation bill last session, lawmakers wanted the wheel-size provision in the bike tax to lessen the blow to children’s bike buyers. Now that’s all forgotten. Despite opposition from major national bicycle industry trade and advocacy organizations warning about how children’s bicycle sales would be negatively impacted by the bill, they still voted in support of it.
I spoke with The Street Trust Policy Director Gerik Kransky about this today. Kranksy worked on the transportation package last session and earned a proverbial “seat at the table” by supporting the bill despite its inclusion of a tax on bicycles (the bill did include funding for The Street Trust’s top priority, Safe Routes to School). Fast forward to today and Kransky says legislators have made a big mistake by “ignoring” the bicycle industry. “I think we were discounted and undermined in this portion of the conversation from the very beginning,” he added.
“The legislative intent was originally to not tax children’s bikes. That is exactly what they’re doing with this move. So they’re going against their own stated intent.”
Kransky said he thinks there’s very little chance the bill can be stopped. “It has passed the committee and it’s mostly a housekeeping amendment,” he said. “My concern is that the floors of both the House and the Senate will simply adopt it as a matter of business and move forward.” The only thing left would be for specific legislators to make a speech during floor debates. “We’re going to connect with some key champions to encourage some remarks, which I think will make an important point.”
In the long-term, Kransky people who feel like a bike tax is the wrong approach for raising revenue, “Need to get together and have a conversation about how we repeal the bike tax completely.”
Will The Street Trust actively work to repeal it next session? “We’re certainly going to look at that,” Kransky said. “I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver. This is a brand new tax that we couldn’t stop and their remains broad support for using it in the suite of transportation revenue included in HB 2017. We thought it was a bad idea when they passed it. We think it’s a bad idea today. And we’ll just have to keep talking with more legislators to build support for our positions. We shouldn’t have a bike tax. Period. And we certainly shouldn’t be taxing children’s bikes in Oregon.”
Now that the tax seems to be well-enshrined in Oregon law, Kransky has a stronger voice against it than he and his organization have had in the past. In 2008 Kransky’s predecessor Karl Rohde said he was not opposed to a bike tax and saw it as a necessary evil. “If you go in with a ‘no!’ attitude you get bulldozed,” he said. “It’s just not constructive for all the other things we’re trying to accomplish.” And in 2013, Kransky told us he’d be opposed to any “new barrier” to cycling, but that The Street Trust would be, “open to the conversation” of a bike tax, as long as the funds it generated were, “pointed in the right direction.”
The Street Trust was just one of many voices in the past that have been either supportive of, or open to the concept of taxing bicycles. Metro (our regional planning organization), The City Club of Portland, City of Portland Bicycle Program Manager Roger Geller, the Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel, and Portland bike lawyer Ray Thomas, are among the voices that have spoken in favor of a bike tax in the past.
A bike tax was most often considered a way to quiet cycling naysayers who couldn’t get past the fallacy that “Those cyclist don’t pay their fair share.” It was never seen as a way to make it harder for people to afford children’s bicycles.
Today Kransky told me the expansion of the tax, “Strikes me as arbitrary and capricious. Which is what this has felt like all along. It’s just a punitive politics at play and we remain skeptical it will generate any significant revenue.”
UPDATE, 3/2 at 11:00 am: People For Bikes has launched a campaign to stop HB 4059.
UPDATE, 3/3: The Oregon House (45-3) and Senate (25-4) have both voted to pass the bill. It is not headed to the Governor’s desk for signing. Votes below…
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