Last week House Democrats shocked many Seattle area bicyclists by floating a transportation budget that included a $25 tax on bikes over $500. The plan - which is a $10 billion proposal that would also raise gas taxes and increase car tab fees - is largely designed to funnel huge sums of money to state highway projects like the extension of Highway 167 and additional lanes on Interstate 405. It also includes some pocket change for things like "Complete Streets" and stormwater cleanup.
The reaction to the proposed bicycle tax was predictable. Cyclists and urbanites largely denounced the plan as ridiculous and dumb. Meanwhile, suburbanites, bike haters and the Republicans in Olympia the provision was apparently supposed to appease were totally cool with it.
The question is: Who will the tax - if it should ever become law (which is hopefully a long shot) - really impact?
As Peter Callaghan of The News Tribune in Tacoma tweeted the day the transportation package was announced:
Seems simple enough, right? I mean, only some sort of granola crunching snob would spend more than 500 bones on a bike, right?
Neil Wechsler - the owner of the Montlake Bicycle Shop - says that's not really the case. Wechsler says average commuter bikes at his shop - the kind that people buy for getting around a city, not winning the Tour de France - start at around $400 and quickly surpass the $500 total. He says hardcore cyclists can easily spend in the thousands, and only the Targets and Walmarts of the world carry a large selection of cheaper bikes.
For this reason, Wechsler says the folks likely to be most affected by a $25 bike tax are those just looking to commute in Seattle more sustainably. The big spenders likely wouldn't be dissuaded by an extra $25 on top of an already pricey expenditure, and anyone buying a Huffy at Walmart isn't going to have to deal with it.
"My biggest concern is the inequity of it," says Wechsler. "We're trying to get the riders in the state of Washington to buy lower quality bikes for what reason?"
If the bike tax does become law, Wechsler says even more people will likely be drawn to purchasing a bike from an out-of-state, sales tax-dodging online seller - which may end up costing the state more money than the paltry $1 million over 10 years the largely symbolic measure is expected to bring in. He says with the addition of a $25 bike tax on $500 bikes, it would effectively raise the tax rate on such purchases to roughly 14.5 percent - which savvy consumers simply wont want to pay.
"What sense does it make? Why would the state government undermine state employers?" says Wechsler. "I'm not so worried that I'm going to go out of business because of it, but I know there are a lot of bike business that aren't in the same position we're in. I'm sure if [the tax is passed] there would be bike shops going out of business because of it.
"As just a citizen of the state, I'm a little bit outraged that they would create new taxes for now reason other than public relations," Wechsler continues. "It's just weird."
It certainly is.