The initial draft of the 2015-2017 transportation budget included discussion of an annual tax of $25 on bicycles. The Wisconsin Bike Fed and our state bicycle industry was quick to object and all references to the bike tax were quickly removed from the budget. Fast forward two years, and a similar bike tax seems to have strong bipartisan support in Oregon.
With Wisconsin facing a transportation funding shortfall of between $500 million and $939 million over the next two years, and Governor Walker pledging to veto any increase in the state gas tax or vehicle registration fees, could legislators look to Wisconsin cyclists to pay more? We want to know how you would like to see bicycle infrastructure funded, and have embedded a very short survey at the bottom of this longish blog post. Feel free skip reading this and take the survey if you already know how you feel about bike taxes, registration fees, and the gas tax.
The Governor’s Executive Budget for 2017-2019 did not include any mention of a tax on bicycles, but legislators on the budget writing Joint Finance Committee set aside the governor’s transportation budget over concerns about borrowing and major road building delays.
The root of the problem is the gas tax. The 20.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax combines with our 30.9 cents per gallon state gas tax adds up to 51.3 cents per gallon. That may sound like a lot, but the federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993 while the state gas tax has not seen an increase since 2005. Meanwhile, costs to build roads have continued to grow. Compounding that problem is the growing fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet.
The table below from a Legislative Reference Bureau memo provides estimated gross transportation fund revenue, estimated transportation fund-supported debt service, and debt service as a percentage of this revenue under DOT’s 2017-19 budget request.Gross Transportation Fund Revenue and Transportation Fund Supported Debt Service under DOT’ s 2017-19 Budget Request* ($ in Millions)
|Year||Gross Transportation Fund Revenue||Transportation Fund Debt Service||Debt Service as a % of Revenue|
So more than 20% of our state transportation budget comes from borrowing. The math is irrefutable, cars just aren’t paying their way anymore. But cutting funding for non-motorized transportation (bicycling and walking) and things like community sensitive design are not going to solve the problem. Even if you stripped all funding for bicycling, walking (2%) and transit (7%) from the transportation budget, we would still need to find another 21% to cover the deficit.
For decades, we at the Wisconsin Bike Fed argued that people who ride bikes already are paying our fair share. We have made the case that we already pay annual or daily state trail pass fees, and we pay property taxes, which pay for the local roads where we ride most of the time. Since most of us also drive cars, we pay the gas tax and vehicle registration fees and have a right to ask that some of that be used to fund infrastructure for bicycling and walking.
We have also made the case that when people ride bicycles for basic transportation they reduce congestion and the need to expand roads. Factor in reductions in air pollution and health care costs and you would think we should be doing all we can to encourage people to ride bikes.
Instead, Wisconsin only spends about 2% of our transportation budget on active transportation, even though when combined, bicycling and walking make up about 10% of all trips. Add that our state bicycle industry pays millions of dollars in taxes, that bicycling contributes $2 billion to our state economy, accounting for more than 14,000 jobs, and you might well make the argument that we are taxed enough already.
But the political reality is that among many legislators those arguments have fallen on deaf ears. Even friendly legislators who agree with our arguments and think bicycling is a great investment of state resources tell us that it would help our case if we offered even a token amount to prove we have more skin in the game.
Essentially, that is what the Oregon tax is all about. As proposed at press time, Oregon would impose a 3% tax on new bicycles costing $500 or more. Critics argue most bicycles are sold at big box stores for less than that, so this would amount to an attack on local bike shops and quality brands like Trek, Fyxation, Milwaukee Bicycle Company, Waterford Precision Cycles, and Wyatt.
If our legislature proposed such a bicycle tax again, the Wisconsin Bike Fed and our state bicycle industry would fight it tooth and nail. Beyond fighting a poorly vetted excise tax on bicycles, we would like to know what our members think we should advocate for in the search for a politically palatable, sustainable transportation funding system.
Please take a few minutes to answer the quick, two-question survey below. After we get the results, we will share them with you and our elected officials in Madison.