Bike tax a big moment for cycling movement says Oregon Congressman Blumenauer

Congressional Reception-10

“It’s an acknowledgment of the power of the cycling community.”
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The face of bicycling in Oregon isn’t that mad about our state’s new, $15 tax on new bicycles.

U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who served six years in the Oregon House of Representatives and nearly 10 years as a Portland city commissioner, shared via a phone interview yesterday that he feels the tax is a “modest fee” that isn’t that big of a deal when viewed in the light of the overall infrastructure funding package.

I caught up with Blumenauer from his office in Washington D.C. where he’s standing against strong political winds.

“I think this is a really great opportunity for the cycling community to take a step back and think about the bigger picture,” he said.

Blumenauer probably knows more about the “bigger picture” than anyone in the bike advocacy game. He has fought for bicycle-related transportation funding for about 40 years. During that time he’s heard all the anti-bike arguments you can imagine.

“One of the arguments we hear repeatedly is that cyclists don’t have any skin in the game… so there’s been blowback.” Blumenauer thinks the “cyclists don’t pay” argument has only gotten louder as more money has gone to bike projects. During his tenure in politics, Blumenauer has seen Oregon implement the pioneering 1971 “Bicycle Bill” which sets aside 1 percent of all the state’s highway gas tax money for biking and walking infrastructure (which should equal about $3.7 million per year over ten years in the new bill. And federal programs like Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements, and TIGER grants have funded billions in bike infrastructure. “That’s big money,” he said.

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Beyond the bike tax: Here’s what else Oregon’s new transportation bill does for biking and walking

“This historic investment in walking, biking, & transit puts [Oregon] on the map as a leader in accessibility & active transportation.
— The Street Trust via Twitter

It’s no small task that Oregon legislators passed a $5.3 billion transportation package last week. We haven’t had a new way to fund transportation projects and programs since the Jobs and Transportation Act passed in 2009 and this year’s bill was nearly dead just days before being resurrected thanks to a few major compromises.

But a small part of House Bill 2017 — a $15 tax on new bicycles — has gotten a lot of attention from transportation reformers (did you see the tweet from former New York City DOT Director Janette Sadik Khan?!). And for good reason. The tax an unprecedented step in the wrong direction from a state previously famous for passing the forward-thinking “Bicycle Bill” way back in 1971. And while our debates and discussions about the bike tax will continue, let’s not forget the other major components of this bill.

After all, there had to be something good in the bill for The Street Trust and other progressive nonprofit groups to support it.

So… What exactly did they come away with? Here’s how transit, biking, and walking fared.

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7 interesting nuggets buried inside Oregon’s new transportation bill

People walking - SE Powell at 93rd-1

Powell Blvd got a major funding boost in the bill, but it’s biggest advocate inexplicably voted no.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Oregon’s statewide transportation bill is on its way to Governor Kate Brown’s desk. With support from boths sides of the aisle it passed the House yesterday 39-20 and passed the Senate today 22-7.

House Bill 2017 was on the rocks just weeks before its passage; but that was before lawmakers hashed out major compromises. The initial proposal would have raised over $8 billion dollars — including about $777 million for four freeway widening projects in the Portland metro region. Funding for those projects would have come from a new local gas tax and increased registration fees. Those fees and taxes brought auto lobbyist groups out of the woodwork in opposition. With the threat of referral to voters, lawmakers slashed the funding for those highway projects, reduced the size of tax increases, and ultimately shrank the bill’s overall revenue by about $3 billion (they also got environmental groups and Republicans to agree to changes in the low carbon fuels program).

The amended bill will raise $5.2 billion over 10 years. And while the big-ticket highway project earmarks — including I-5 expansion at the Rose Quarter — went way down, the revenue share for public transit, biking and walking remained intact.

Among other things, the bill will provide: $103 million a year to transit agencies to improve bus service via a 0.1% employee-paid tax on wages; $125 million for Safe Routes to School via a 40% matching grant program; and an estimated seven million per year (exact amount will fluctuate) dedicated to paved paths and multi-use trails via a combination of sources including a $15 bike tax. The boost in gas tax revenue will also help pay for road projects that will include a minimum of 1 percent investment in biking and walking-related upgrades thanks to Oregon’s “Bike Bill”.

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It’s official: Oregon now has a $15 bike tax

Read it and weep. Or rejoice, if you think it’s a great idea.

With passage in the Senate today, Oregon’s transportation bill is headed to the Governor’s desk for signing.

We’ve got lots more coverage planned, but there’s one thing that I felt should be singled out. Take a deep breath and consider this: Oregon is now the only state in America with a bicycle excise tax.

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Oregon’s climate change hypocrisy on full display in transportation bill debate

The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

The news this week was full of stories about how Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler were beside themselves about President Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. They vowed to remain committed to climate change prevention.

Yet both of our local leaders support spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the single largest source of greenhouse gases in Oregon: emissions from cars and trucks.

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Transpo bill: Rail advocates say new tracks, not more lanes, will fix congestion

Rail advocate Dan McFarling testifying in Salem on Monday.

One of the best ideas for improving transportation in Oregon is glaringly absent from the state’s transportation funding package: Better passenger and freight rail lines between Portland and Eugene.

At one of four hearings on House Bill 2017-3 held at the State Capitol this week, representatives from the Association of Oregon and Rail Transit Advocates took the opportunity to remind lawmakers about this fact.

While the package being debated includes over $900 million in earmarks for highway expansions in the name of “congestion relief,” advocates with AORTA feel like the bill will cause Oregon to fall even further behind our west coast neighbors.

“Go big or go home,” is how AORTA rep Dan McFarling began his testimony in front of the Joint Transportation Preservation and Modernization Committee on Monday. “Rail programs in Washington and California are going big. We are treading water.”

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Lawmakers likely to tweak bicycle tax in response to opposition

Among a host of tweaks expected to Oregon’s transportation funding package is very likely to include a major change to the controversial bicycle excise tax.

Instead of 3 percent excise tax on all new bikes (with some exceptions), it’s likely to become a $15 flat fee.

In a meeting of the Joint Transportation Preservation and Modernization Committee at the capitol last night, Co-Chair Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) said he and other legislators have heard concerns about the tax from bicycle dealers. As we reported last week, the current proposal is a 3 percent tax on the purchase of new bicycles. That idea faced strong opposition from shop owners who fear the tax will drive sales toward online and big-box retailers, create onerous new reporting requirements, and put a black cloud over bicycling in Oregon.

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Guest post: Families show up in Salem to demand more funding for Safe Routes to School

Participants in the Ride to Salem pose with signs outside the capitol (top, left), while children and their parents from Eugene, Portland and Milwaukie testified. (Photos: The Street Trust)

This post was written by The Street Trust’s Interim Executive Director Stephanie Noll and Campaign Manager LeeAnne Fergason.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, five amazing kids testified in Salem before the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization. These young advocates had never before been to the Capitol. Legislators welcomed Oliver from North Portland; Ben, Gus, and Isadora from Eugene; and Trey from Milwaukie as they and their parents spoke out for Safe Routes to School.

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The Street Trust: Oregon transpo bill falls short on Safe Routes to School

Bike to School Day in NoPo-17

The current bill would only improve streets within one-quarter mile of schools.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Staff and supporters from The Street Trust are pedaling to Salem today with a message for legislators: The $8.2 billion transportation bill doesn’t do enough to fund Safe Routes to School. Not nearly enough.

While lawmakers want to fast-track nearly $2 billion for a few freeway expansion projects in the Portland region, they want to dedicate just $10 million a year to the Safe Routes to School program.

LeeAnne Fergason, who heads up The Street Trust’s For Every Kid Coalition, wrote in an email last week that $10 million per year “is not adequate.”

In House Bill 2017, lawmakers have proposed $10 million a year for 10 years to be spent to, “improve sidewalks; reduce vehicle speeds; improve pedestrian and bicycle crossings; create or improve bicycle lanes; or improve traffic diversion” within a quarter-mile of schools. The money would also only be available to agencies and organizations that could come up with a 40 percent match (meaning grant applicants would have to come up with 40% of the project cost from their own budgets in order to receive any state money).

The language in HB 2017 falls far short of what The Street Trust has been lobbying for. They want the bill to include provisions in House Bill 3230, which they helped write in collaboration with Portland House Representative Rob Nosse Representative John Lively from Springfield and Senator Kathleen Taylor from Milwaukie. That bill sailed through the House in April but hasn’t moved forward in the Senate. Here’s a chart created by The Street Trust that shows the difference between HB 3230 and HB 2017.

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Oregon’s $8 billion transportation bill promises ‘congestion relief’ by doubling down on highways

Policymakers Ride-21

Too much of one, not enough of the other.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The speculations are over and now the debates can begin.

On Wednesday night a bipartisan committee of state legislators released the first draft of the transportation funding package. The 298-page House Bill 2017 aims to raise $8.2 billion over the next 10 years from a combination of increases to existing taxes and fees, and a few new ones.

The bill tilts heavily toward major new investments in roads and highways that will make driving more convenient. Local bus services get a boost, while investment in light rail is explicitly prohibited. Biking and walking see an amount of dedicated investment that’s unprecedented compared to past packages; but is still embarrassingly small relative to other priorities.

The broad outlines of the bill are similar to what has been discussed during recent meetings of the 14-member Joint Transportation Preservation and Modernization Committee. But there are several noteworthy new details to discuss.

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Bike industry leaders oppose bike tax proposal amid push for alternatives

North Portland Bikeworks new location-2-1

(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Right now in Salem, lawmakers are drafting a statewide transportation funding package that aims to raise over $8 billion. As we reported last week, one small piece of that new revenue — an estimated $2 million a year — would come from a 5 percent tax on the purchase of new bicycles.

The tax would add $35 to the average price of a new bike purchased at a bike shop. It would be an unprecented step for Oregon and the only tax of its kind in America.

Not surprisingly, bike shop owners throughout Oregon are very concerned.

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