Our view: Imposing a bike tax? Bad idea.
Politics have a funny way of producing reactionary absurdities; e.g. opposition and support for a proposed state bicycle tax.
Normally speaking politicians of all stripes hew to a standard set of party preferences that are, at least ostensibly, about principles. Over the last few decades deviations have grown more rare as political media of both the left and right, and their corresponding grassroots activists, have largely purged “heretics” from the proverbial fold. Antipathy for opposing principles rules the day.
This has produced unprecedented gridlock at the federal, and oftentimes state, level and forced politicians from both sides to justify their intransigence on the grounds that they cannot compromise foundational beliefs. That is why the recent suggestion by Colorado State Senator Ray Scott, the assistant majority leader for the Republicans, and the response from liberal corners has me feeling like I’m in bizzaro world.
In July Scott posted on his Facebook account that he plans to introduce legislation to create some sort of tax on bicycles during next year’s legislative session. Scott has not defined the contours of his proposal or if he will actually submit legislation, and has since backtracked slightly. But the mere fact that someone with the state Republican leadership is not just voting for but championing a tax is akin to seeing a cat swimming; not unprecedented but extremely unusual.
Scott’s statement followed approval of a bicycle specific sales tax by the Oregon Legislature earlier in the month, the first of its kind in the nation. Surprisingly, or perhaps not given our political climate, liberals across the state have expressed their vehement opposition to the tax. Surprisingly, or perhaps not given our political climate, conservatives have voiced their support.
This dichotomy is, to put it bluntly, reactionary absurdity on both sides. For the better part of the last five decades the Republican Party has stood in stark opposition to increasing taxation, on the fundamental principle that government needs to spend less, not tax more. Earlier this year a State Senate Committe, which does not include Scott, voted down a half-a-percent increase to the state sales tax, to go towards much needed highway funding, on ideological grounds. Scott himself is not the most fervent anti-tax conservative but has historically opposed tax increases. He has drawn high marks from the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, which goes by the acronym CUT, throughout most of his legislative career; typically garnering scores in the high 70s to low 90s.
At the same time the Democratic Party, and liberals in general, have been more than happy to support tax increases, even increases on themselves, if they perceived those taxes as furthering their ideological beliefs. But now many who would otherwise be inclined to support a modest increase in sales taxes on high end bicycle sales, or an appropriately regulated registration requirement and corresponding fee, suddenly find themselves espousing conservatives opinions on the onerousness of taxation and the futility of expanding government spending. While many of those who oppose the tax are nonpolitical cyclists who simply do not want to pay more, much opposition has been couched in political terms, exposing absurdities in Scott’s argument without addressing the underlying question of whether or not such a tax is appropriate, necessary, – and importantly – equitable.
Scott’s proposal, simply put, was meant to gin up his base and nothing more. Many conservative voters believe, not without merit, that most cyclists are, if at all political, liberals. The suggestion by Scott was, if we cut through the rhetorical bologna, nothing more than an attempt to gain attaboys from the grassroots by appearing to stick it to the one thing conservatives truly oppose, leftists and liberals. The fact that the suggestion exposed left wing hypocrisy on the importance or true burdens of taxation was simply icing on the cake.
But just because Scott’s proposal was born out of rhetorical partisanship doesn’t mean it is a bad one. I truly believe most cyclists in this state would support a modest sales tax increase on high end bikes or a minor registration fee for bicycles that travel our highways or forest trails; so long as the funds are earmarked for improvements or expansion of cycling infrastructure, and apparently so long as it is not proposed by a Republican.
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