Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

18 July 2017

Who Voted For The Bicycle Tax?

Someone--I forget who, exactly--told me that growing up is becoming what you hate.  I think most of us have had a day when we thought--or said--or, worse, did--something at which our younger selves would have recoiled.

So what does it mean when you hear something of which your younger self would have approved--and you agree with it?  Or when an opinion you agree with is expressed by someone your younger self wanted to be, but who now makes you cringe?

I am thinking now of day I heard exactly what I thought about the US invasion of Iraq and our meddling in the Middle East--with the exact reasons I had for my belief, expressed almost verbatim in the way I'd expressed it--from none other than Pat Buchanan.  And, I have to admit that even though I have long dismissed my youthful embrace of Ayn Rand's philosophy (such as it is) as a jejune fever-dream, there are still times I find myself siding with libertarians--at least to a point--on some issues.

So it is today.  But I am not the only left-ish person to find herself siding with anti-tax conservatives about a law just passed in Oregon.  

Last month, I wrote about the debate in the Beaver State legislature over a proposed bicycle tax.  The bill, in its original form, would have placed a levy on sales of new bicycles costing $500 or more.  Apparently, the authors of the bill thought bikes in that price range are "luxury" items.  I argued that if you are going to buy a new bike that you want to use for daily transportation, you have to spend at least that much if you want something that's reliable and will last.

One of the bill's authors--Lee Beyer, a Democrat--argued that it would ensure that cyclists had "skin in the game", ignoring the fact that cyclists pay the same taxes that everyone else pays.  A fellow Democrat, Earl Blumenauer--a Congressman who regularly appears on C-Span with a bicycle pin conspicuously attached to his lapel--also defended the tax, saying that it would "raise the profile of cycling."

Well, yesterday the State legislature voted in favor of the tax as part of a sweeping transportation bill.  Worse, the threshold for the $15 tax is not $500, but $200, and would apply to bikes with wheel diameters of 26 inches or more.

(Does that mean small-wheeled folding bikes are exempt?  What about 650s?)

Not surprisingly, Bike Portland publisher Jonathan Maus called the tax an "unprecedented step in the wrong direction."  He found an ally in Bill Currier, who blasted Governor Kate Brown's "endless obsession with finding new and innovative ways of taking money out of the pockets of Oregon taxpayers."

Who is Mr Currier?  The Oregon Republican Party Chairman!

From the New York Times

My concern about a bicycle tax is the same one I have almost any time a government tries to raise revenue for some ostensible purpose or another--in this case, improving bicycle and other transportation infrastructure.  New taxes--whether direct ones on sales or incomes, or less direct ones like lotteries or other government-sponsored gambling schemes--are sold to the public as a way of funding what people want and need, whether it's education or infrastructure improvements.  Too often, however, the money doesn't find its way to those stated purposes.  I've a feeling that whatever is raised from bicycle sales won't go to bike lanes (which, more often than not, are of questionable value anyway) or other facilities for cycling, or even for other forms of non-automotive transportation.


  1. Most cyclists are law-abiding citizens who pay their fair share of taxes, including gas taxes. Where I live, Montana, most cyclists also own at least one vehicle. This tax seems especially punitive when one considers that Oregon levies no general sales tax. Instead of taxing things that can kill you -- firearms, ammunition, tobacco and soda come to mind -- this misguided effort targets the most efficient, health-enhancing and environmentally friendly form of transportation on the planet. One solution for skirting this abomination: Do like I do and buy your bikes on Craigslist and ebay. Some of my Craigslist-ebay bargains: 1990 Bridgestone MB3, $55; 1989 Bridgestone MB3, $50; 1977 Raleigh Competition, minus wheels, bars and pedals: $50. You get the picture.

  2. MT--"Abomination" is the best term for that legislation.

    I would have loved to score that Raleigh Competition!

  3. This must seem confusing to outsiders. Isn't Portland, Oregon, one of the best cycling cities in the country? How or why would the legislators vote for this?

    There are two Oregons. There is the Portland metropolitan area, and then there is the rest of Oregon. Portland was settled by mainly people from New England. They brought a set of values with them that were very progressive for the times. Their spirit lives on in Portland. But the rest of Oregon is more or less an extension of the Southern Rim, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, etc. Even the speech of people changes when you leave Portland, and in rural areas there is a definite southern sound to the way people speak. Portlanders speak pretty much Mid Atlantic with a bit of a western twang to it. (I am speaking of people born in Oregon, especially the second and third generation. I am sixth generation.)

    Inside Portland there are bike lanes and people for the most part are careful and conservative drivers. Outside of, or even on the edge of Portland the SUVs are rollin' coal. The Oregon legislature must balance these two worlds, with odd results at times.


  4. Leo--That's an interesting explanation. I am one of those "outsiders" to whom you refer, and I was indeed baffled when I read about the tax. But it makes more sense now. It also worries me that the NYS legislature might pass something equally absurd because, as in Oregon, once you leave the liberal enclaves, it's actually a pretty conservative state. (That's why the State Senate usually has a Republican majority.)