Vote Delayed, Bike Tax Proposed

Wisconsin Bike Fed

Yesterday, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee tossed us a couple of curve balls.

First, they postponed the scheduled vote on Complete Streets and TAP from this Thursday until sometime next week.

Second, they’ve introduced a new wrinkle into the debate: a tax on bikes. What’s being proposed is a one time $25 registration fee, which would be paid upon the “initial” purchase of a bike, implying that it would be charged only on new bikes. The proceeds, which are estimated to be about $7 million over the two-year state budget, would be deposited into the Transportation Fund, but not earmarked for bicycle infrastructure.

The Bike Fed strongly opposes the bike tax. While we don’t oppose some sort of revenue stream to support improvements for bikeways, that revenue source would have to equitable, dedicated to projects that benefit cyclists, and efficient to collect. The legislature shouldn’t be imposing a significant new tax without any study and without asking for feedback from the cycling public or the biking industry in our state.

Bicycling is a $1.5 billion industry in Wisconsin supporting some 14,000 jobs. We can’t think of another industry that the legislature would target for increased taxes. In fact, this governor and legislature have been active in looking for ways to cut taxes on business. So, wouldn’t it make sense to consult with the people who make bikes and employ thousands before proposing a tax that could hurt their sales?

And what about bicycle buyers themselves? Don’t most of us drive as well and pay gas taxes and registration fees that support these projects already? And even for those dedicated cyclists who don’t drive much, aren’t they saving all kinds societal costs by reducing wear and tear on our roads, the need to build expensive parking, and in air and water pollution that is reduced because they bike?

One option the Joint Finance Committee will consider when they finally take up the Complete Streets issue is a study committee to look at whatever concerns there are about that program. If they want to add consideration of a dedicated revenue source for bicycle infrastructure the Bike Fed would be happy to be part of that discussion. We’re always happy to explore and share ideas in an open, informed and deliberative process.


But to just toss out an idea for a bike tax at the eleventh hour in the midst of a complex and huge state budget is just reckless. Please join us in voicing your opposition to the bike tax.

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About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

10 thoughts on “Vote Delayed, Bike Tax Proposed

  1. The legislative fiscal bureau paper #655 shows what a knee-jerk proposal this is.

    First, as written, the tax would disproportionately hit low-cost Walmart/Target bikes, including 20″ and 24″ kids bikes. According to the same industry overview cited by the legislative brief, 74% of bike sales are through such mass-merchants, “at an average selling price of $84.” Presumably those merchants would fight the tax and, without them, tax revenues would drop from $7M to $1.7M.

    Second, there’s no differentiation of new and used bikes. Used bikes represent 20% of trackable bike sale revenue nationwide, and probably more in Wisconsin.

    Third, there’s no mention of what it would cost to collect this tax or the difficulties of online sales from REI, Dick’s, or even

    Fourth, there’s no mention that Oregon’s original idea was $25 on bikes costing over $500, but was later was changed 4% of new bike sales. The revenues would also have been earmarked for bicycle programs. Regardless, the idea was not adopted.

    Hopefully clearer minds will prevail. Still, with such proposals like being tossed around, the Amish had better watch out!

  2. Yes, I agree, if there is to be a tax it should be earmarked in some way towards bike projects, if for no other reason to be able to see just how far the tax goes to the projects desired.
    Also, maybe the money will be that much harder to “steal”, as what happened when Gov. Jim Doyle robbed the transportation fund for three consecutive biennial budgets from 2003 to 2009 for a total amount of $1.26 billion. That money would have gone a long way to avoiding our current transporation situation I’d think.
    One of the first things Walker did when elected in 2010 was get a bill passed where the fund can’t be robbed from again.
    The proposed bike tax should be setup the same way.,_Question_1_%282014%29

  3. Dear sirs and madams; This is an open letter to anyone who supports the bicycle tax: The average selling price of a bicycle in the United States is less than $100. You may not realize this, but 80% of bicycles are sold through the MASS market channel (read: Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us etc) You expect them to accept a $25.00 tax on bicycles? Besides the fact that you will be biting the hand that funds you, it is abhorrent that our government is focusing on looking for crumbs under the sofa, when there are TRILLIONS in uncollected taxes from corporate America, American religious groups, and Wall Street. How dare you even propose such an insulting direct mockery of the people you represent. You do NOT represent the Koch brothers, the elite, or the corporations who seek to exploit every possible tax aversion they can. You represent the PEOPLE of Wisconsin, and protecting her future. This money could be found in a few moments just by reviewing the endless ax loopholes that big business uses to rape our economy. Get to work. I am your boss.

  4. My reply to the form:

    Please consider leaving Complete Streets intact. As has been clearly seen for some time, the State of Wisconsin is in serious need of safe routes (shared or separate footprint) for non-motorized traffic. Cyclists and other non-motorized users should have the benefit of a belief that using streets and lanes is safe(r) than they currently are, or should hope for future generations. The Vulnerable Users Act fight, discussion and debate should have thoroughly proven a continued need for this effort.
    Regarding taxation? C’mon!! I, and thousands like me, already pay road tax on our owned vehicles and fuel we purchase. When I choose to not use them and engage in more healthy and LESS impactful forms of traffic my contribution is not lessened because I choose an alternate, yet this new tax will add an undue burden of tax without some expectation of return for value. Your proposal to place this money in general transportation funds basically double dips the tax pool of those of us who ride instead of driving our currently “taxed” vehicles on the road. You want to fix the road fund? Put some financial burden on vehicles traveling on our most expensive roads … Yes, tolls for the major arterial interstate highways. The time is now. This short-sighted legislation will do nothing but create more disincentive to buy new bikes and will crush a valuable industry in this state. Why would the likes of Trek stay here if the industry is going to be hit thusly? If love to hear them with in …
    Thanks for your time.
    Please vote Yes to keep Complete Streets, and No to additional, unwarranted taxes.

  5. Craig,
    All the arguments you made can easily be transferred to what happens with automobiles, whether when purchased or registered. Pay to play?
    Making the tax progressive as OR did was a similar “solution”.
    I’m not for new taxes and I find it interesting that the people by and large that normally are (like in the “everyone needs to pay their fair share” crowd) aren’t now?
    Why stop at corporations? Al Sharpton owes over $4.5 million in state and federal taxes. Maybe Pres. Obama can remind him of that the next time he visits the White House.
    Federal employees owe a total of $3.3 billion in back taxes to the federal government, according to Internal Revenue Service data released Thursday.
    In all, 318,462 federal employees owed back taxes as of last Sept. 30 — an increase of 2.6% from the previous year. That puts the average tax bill at $10,391, according to IRS data obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act.

  6. Just as an FYI, the above form sends the message to Senator Erpenbach so, if you are not in his district it will go for naught until you send to your own Representative/Senator. Here is reply –

    Dear Jon,
    Thank you for taking the time to contact my office regarding Complete Streets program. I appreciate hearing from you.
    This issue has not come up in Joint Finance, and we are unsure when it will be scheduled. My Democratic colleagues and I will continue to do all we can to change the budget for the better and vote against proposals that do not grow and invest in Wisconsin. I appreciate your partnership as an advocate in that process, however, as a legislative courtesy we only respond to those from our district.

    Since all members of our Senate and Assembly must vote on things, I also encourage you to contact your own legislators, which can be found at

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. I will keep your thoughts in mind as we deliberate.


    State Senator
    27th District

  7. Has nobody made the argument that someone who cycles would save the government money by:
    – Keeping people healthier (well proven mental and physical improvements) and thereby reducing health care costs
    – Reducing the provisioning of additional road space or public transit seats; less road wear
    – Reducing road congestion and thereby reducing lost productivity
    – Adding to economic vitality and in cycling friendly areas, increase land and property values thereby increasing tax revenues too
    – The environmental benefits – should have parity to other CO2 mitigation costs government are paying for

    And, as most cyclists are substituting a bicycle journey for a car journey, those who cycle are in fact already over paying for their car registration and other annual taxes that support motor vehicle road users.

    Just the infrastructure and health savings in a number of international studies (UK and Australia included) concluded that government is actually a significant net beneficiary for every mile cycled.

    It is argued that consumption taxes should be levied on activities government would like to moderate or eliminate not on the activities that it should be seeking to encourage. It would be more appropriate and logical for the government to add the $25 levy on car sales and put it into the cycling fund!

    Finally, it would be worth insisting that government compare and publish the cost benefit ratio of any road or improvement project. It may surprise some lawmakers to find spending money on cycling infrastructure is a better investment than many other road “improvements”. Don’t be surprised if this sort of transparency meets with some resistance!

    Time to help government change perspective?

  8. It seems everybody loves bicycles (except the bike tax supporter). Bike shops keep selling more bikes. More roads have bicycle lanes. Our city parks have great bike trails. The St. Marks Rail Trail is full. Advertisers love showing fit happy couples on bicycles.
    But I remember a man who hated bicyclists using “his” roads and “not paying gas taxes”. Since then I have learned a lot about the high cost of roads and who really pays for our “one person one car” culture. The truth is quite surprising!
    Every time a cyclist purchases a taxable product, buys a home, or pays an income tax, that cyclist is paying for roads! The Leon County Penny Sales Tax fact sheet says “most of the money will be spent on building and improving our local roads”. Over $550 million tax dollars are expected.
    Tax Foundation says gas taxes and tolls pay only one third of road costs! Bicycle friendly Copenhagen, Denmark (rated the happiest country!) found they lose 20 cents for every mile a car is driven. For every mile a cyclist uses a road for transportation the city earns 42 cents. No wonder more downtowns are in a race to get people “out of their cars!”
    Money spent on gas leaves a community. The number one reason citizens cannot afford a home is car expenses. Also, Leon County spent $8 million dollars bulldozing polluted muck out of our once famous big bass, white sand, and clear Lake Jackson. Sadly, storm water runoff during I-10 widening “re-polluted” it. Forests are cut to make expensive storm water ponds and ugly parking lots.
    Driving instead of bicycling can greatly increases healthcare taxes. Center of Disease Control says obesity related diseases costs over $170 billion/year (not counting missing work and disabilities). My too few patients that are over 50, in good health, and not taking expensive medications make “moving” a part of their daily lives. New bicycle commuters are surprised how healthy AND happy they become!
    I have friends in their 70s bicycling all over the country and LOVING retirement. I asked on “old” cyclist why he bicycled. With tears in his eyes, he said he wanted to live for his wonderful wife and grandkids. A stroke survivor, his doctor told him to “turn off the TV or die”!
    PS: Remember that man who hated bicyclists using “his” road. Sadly, he had a heart attack, gained weight, and got diabetes. In and out of hospitals the past 12 years, his foot was partially amputated. He didn’t have health insurance. He sued to get social security disability and Medicare. Cyclists helped pay all those expenses.
    If you must drive your car to work, thank a cyclist for less traffic, that extra parking space AND for subsidizing your driving costs. But best of all, if you want to have fun getting healthy, BE A CYCLIST! A great place to start is at the health fair and bicycle “Ride for Hope” on June 11 and 12. All abilities are welcome.

  9. Why shouldn’t the money go directly to the transportation fund? It’s only fair that it does, unless you want to stop arguing that the transportation fund pay for things like bike paths and bike lanes on streets. My gas tax money is paying for those things right now, so yes, it is absolutely time for you to start paying your fair share.

    It’s also time for the cyclists who blatantly ignore the laws of the road to start following them. Things like stopping at red lights and stop signs and riding on the appropriate side of the road, for example.

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