Washington State representative Judy Clibborn said in a phone interview today that inserting a tax on bicycles into a $10 billion state revenue package for transportation, which mostly funds freeways, "was my idea." But when asked if she supports that bicycle tax she repeated: "I don't. I don't."
So why put it in there?
After all, "The package almost completely ignores bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure," notes Craig Benjamin, the political manager of the Cascade Bicycle Club. "Given the benefits people on bicycles provide to the rest of the transportation system by taking cars off the road, this is short-sighted."
But slapping a $25 excise on bicycles over $500 will appease Republican legislators who typically "grouse" about funding transportation packages that include a little money for bike trails and transit, said Clibborn, a Democrat from suburban Seattle who chairs the state House's transportation committee. "They always say—and I don't agree—that [cyclists] are not paying for anything." Clibborn argues that many bicycle riders have cars too, they pay gas taxes, and everyone ends up shouldering the expense of state roads. Still, the token tax, which would raise only about $1 million, changed perceptions of the revenue proposal among her colleagues. "So whether I agree with it or not," she said, it garnered support, "and when I showed the bike people, they didn't tell me to take it out."
But the bike people don't like it one bit. This afternoon Benjamin said the bicycle tax "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."
Benjamin continues, "Were such a tax partnered with a package that invested significantly in making neighborhoods that are safe for our kids, we might be able to live with it."
That said, a minute fraction of this $10 billion package would help out cyclists; for instance, some transportation money goes to projects like freeway flyovers that cyclists could use, Clibborn says. And $60 million for Complete Streets grants would help road construction that includes bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and other infrastructure.
The transportation revenue package would also raise $700 million for transit, Clibborn explains, funded by a 0.7 percent vehicle excise tax. The package also taxes hazardous chemicals and freight vehicles. It would require a two-thirds majority of the legislature, according to rules established by Tim Eyman initiatives, and Governor Jay Inslee has said recently that he would make an exception to his no-new-tax pledge for transportation.
Coming back to bicycles: Clibborn, for her part, seems skeptical that this bicycle tax will survive the political meat grinder. "I am not wedded to it," she says. "I have my doubts [it will be adopted by the legislature] because it doesn't seem to be much of player. But I haven't had anyone ask me to take it out. Now, if you write this, I will probably get a bunch of requests."