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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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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Oregon transportation funding proposal includes 5% tax on new bicycles

State Senator Brian Boquist knows we can’t build or tax our way out of congestion; but he wants to try it one more time.

Last night in Salem the Joint Committee On Transportation Preservation and Modernization unveiled the outline of what will become a statewide transportation funding bill.

As expected, the proposal (PDF) includes earmarks for several major highway widening projects in the Portland region and a tax on the sale of new bicycles. Overall, the package would raise about $8.1 billion that would be phased in over 10 years. That money would come from a mix of new and existing taxes and fees. As we reported back in March, the ideas presented to the committee yesterday by Senators Brian Boquist and Lee Beyer (committee co-chairs) came from four main “work groups” that met in open-door meetings in the capitol over the past three months. The proposals were also greatly influenced by an 11-city statewide tour taken by committee members last summer as well as a report by the Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel that came out one year ago.

Here’s what they put on the table last night. As you read them, consider Sen. Beyer’s comments last night: “This proposal can change; but if we want to solve the transportation problems the people told us they want to solve, this gets us there. This is the minimum we should do.”

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State eyes $131 million per year in new active transportation and safety funding

State Senator Lee Beyer during his presentation to the Joint Committee yesterday.

After months of speculation, legislators are finally sharing proposals that will eventually make up the statewide transportation funding bill.

Yesterday during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization, State Senator Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) laid out a proposal that would raise an additional $131 million a year for bicycling, walking, transit and street safety projects statewide.

Sen. Beyer, who led the workgroup and is co-chair of the committee, broke up the proposal into four sections: transit, safe routes to school, safety projects, and off-highway paths.

Here’s how it all breaks down.

Transit – $107 million a year

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A bike excise tax, losing the Lottery, and more Safe Routes: Our look at state transportation funding package

The state capitol building in Salem.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

By the end of this month Oregonians will have their first look at what state lawmakers and interest groups have cooked up for a transportation package.

I’ve followed the progress and have noticed several key themes worthy of your attention. Here’s my best take on what’s going on.

But first, let’s start with an overview of how the package is being developed:

How the sausage is being made

The package is being drafted by the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization — a 14-member body with eight Democrats and six Republicans that represent districts throughout Oregon. They’ve met five times since February 1st. Their meetings are usually less than 30 minutes long because the real work is being done in four work groups. These groups have been assigned to focus on specific topics. Here are the names of the groups and the committee members assigned to each of them:

Congestion Work Group:
– Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas)
– Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland)
– Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro)
– Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose)

Public Transit/Bike/Ped/Safety Work Group:
– Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield)
– Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland)
– Sen. Kathleen Taylor (D-Milwaukie)

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Report reignites talk of bike excise tax – but advocates aren’t howling

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
North Portland Bikeworks new location-11-10

Would you like tax with that? Maybe you would, actually.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Today’s Portland City Club report that gave a big bear hug to biking also said buyers of new bikes should pay a special tax: 4 percent on each new bike purchase in Oregon, or $20 for a $500 bike.

The report recommended that the money — it’d be about $840,000 annually for the State of Oregon — go to programs that support and educate road users about bikes.

The city’s bicycle advocates aren’t exactly thrilled. But perhaps surprisingly, they aren’t gasping in horror, either.

“Generally speaking, the BTA is opposed to any new barrier between people and biking,” Bicycle Transportation Alliance advocacy director Gerik Kransky said today. “That being said, we’re open to the conversation. … It looks like their ideas about how to spend the money are pointed in the right direction.”

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City Club research report strongly endorses bicycling

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Read the report here.

After a year of research, a 12-member committee of the Portland City Club released a report today titled, No Turning Back: A City Club Report on Bicycle Transportation in Portland. The 83-page report tackled nearly every major bicycling issue that Portland faces: From quantifying just how many people are riding, to making recommendations on how to raise money to pay for bike-specific infrastructure. They also looked into many of the negative narratives around bicycling to determine if they had any merit (spoiler alert: they don’t).

And, just as I suspected when I shared an update on this project earlier this month, the report is extremely favorable to bicycling. Here’s an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

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“Symbolic” bike tax proposed in Washington should sound familiar

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
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.

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In Clackamas County, bikes cause ‘considerable’ road damage

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
Hawthorne bike lane -1

Doing some damage.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Reader Chris S. came across a story in The Oregonian yesterday that made him do a double-take. In a report about the ‘State of the County’ event held by the Clackamas County commissioners, the topic of bicycles came up. The event allowed citizens to ask commissioners any question they’d like. The Oregonian reporter shared a few of the questions and summarized the answers.

Here’s the first question in the story — and the one that Chris said he “had to read a few times to make sure I read it correctly.”

Q: Bicyclists and studded tire users cause considerable road damage. Why shouldn’t bicyclists and studded tire users be required to pay an annual fee to the county for wear and tear?

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How do you feel about a bike excise tax?

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
Cyclepath Bike Shop - NE Portland

A bike tax has more supporters
than you might think.
(Photo © J. Maus)

2010 will be a year of major discussions about how to finance America’s transportation system. As the use of bicycles is taken more seriously and more money is spent on bike-centric facilities, calls for a revenue stream taken directly from people who ride bicycles — as opposed to the gas tax — are sure to grow louder.

One idea that seems to be growing in support is a bicycle excise tax that would be charged at the point of sale of new bikes and/or bike parts.

The idea is obviously popular with people who represent highway users, but I’ve noticed a growing number of high-profile bike advocates, politicians, and organizations express their support as well.

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News analysis: BTA at a turning point with or without Bricker

[This story was co-written by Elly Blue and Jonathan Maus]

Scott Bricker
(Photos © J. Maus)

Last week the Board of Directors of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) — Oregon’s largest bicycle advocacy organization — fired Scott Bricker after he served just two years as the organization’s executive director.

“What’s going on down there?” we were asked by David Hiller, advocacy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, the BTA’s Washington State counterpart. “The whole national advocacy community is all atwitter about this and there aren’t any answers.”

Hiller’s sentiments were echoed here in the BTA’s own backyard, where many seemed to be caught off guard by the decision, which was effective immediately.

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