I’ve got an idea I think Governor Walker will like. I’m gonna give you the same pitch I will make to the Governor to get your feedback. If you readers think it is a good idea too, I will call the him and run my spiel. (I heard about a secret code name bloggers can use if they want to talk to him). So let me know if you think it is a good suggestion. Ready? Here’s the wind-up:
OK, let’s pretend I’ve got the Governor on the phone. After a few pleasantries I ask him to restore state funding for bike and ped projects, and he says,”We’re broke Dave, and as nice as they are, we just can’t afford the extras like bicycle projects until we fix our existing roads.” I respond that we must fund bicycle and pedestrian projects too, after all, they make up 14% of all trips and he adds “What if I ask bicyclists to pay their share? Motorists pay taxes at the pump and they pay registration fees for their vehicles, which earns them a place on the road. What if I add a registration fee for bicycles?”
It never takes long for anti-tax folks to suggest additional taxes and fees on people who ride bicycles or on bicycle sales. Funny how quickly anti-tax arguments are forgotten when it comes to taxing healthy activities like bicycling. Because I am so sick of listening to this argument and I believe in shared sacrifice, I am almost willing to pay extra out of my pocket. I might be willing to pay an annual bicycle registration fee if all that money would go to bicycle projects like a bike path over the Hoan. But even if other cyclists felt the same as I and were willing to pay more, we can’t go down that road so I don’t suggest it.
Instead I argue, “Mr. Governor, new taxes are a non-starter. First such a tax or fee would have a negative effect on local bike shops, which are small businesses. It would make them less competative with internet sales. Aren’t those small business owners just guys you want to help in this economy? The better they do, the more jobs they will create, right? And besides, we cyclists can’t accept paying any new taxes and fees on cycling, because we are taxed enough already.”
Here I get all fiscally wonky and give him my standard, but pretty convincing argument that cyclists actually pay more than their share. As solid as this argument is, I know that many other people have made the same case with little effect on the current crop of Ryan republicans. Similarly, my argument does not sway the Governor.
So I go on the my third reason to fund bicycles, and say “But we ain’t broke. Governor. Your 2011-2012 WisDOT budget request is $5,582,333,000. I don’t know how much money you are used to handling sir, but I think that if the taxpayers of Wisconsin can afford $5.6 billion for transportation, they ain’t broke. On the other hand, if we can afford $5.6 billion for highways, but we can’t afford $5 million for bicycles and pedestrians, even though they make up about 14% of all trips, then I do believe our priorities are broken.”
Now I try that old political sales technique of pushing blame on previous administrations. “Governor, I understand that you inherited a mess because previous administrations put off maintianing our roads in order to avoid tough budgetary choices.” Now I have his ear. To further make my point, I send the Governor the graph below via SMS text, and say “Let’ take a closer look at the situation and how we got here. The graph is from the WisDOT budget trends study done in 2010.
“What you can see sir, is the previous administrations spent more and more every year to build new roads, but they were not been fiscally responsible enough to increase our maintenance budget to repair all those new highways. I have added the red triangle to represent the legacy of deferred maintenance your administration inherited. If you don’t fix the roads now, they will fall apart. There will be more and more pot holes and more bridges that will fall down like the Hoan and I35 in Minneapolis.”
Now we get into it, and I point out that the red triangle represents a deficit of about $4 billion dollars, a very conservative estimate of how far we are behind on maintenance. I press ahead and suggest that if we can afford a budget of $5.6 billion, a true conservative would put as much money as possible into maintenance and hold off on the luxuries, like widening I-94 or converting Hwy 41 into an interstate. We should fix what is broken and tell motorists they are going to have to deal with congestion unless they are willing to take more cost-effective and efficient means of transportation. Single occupancy vehicles waste a lot of resources. A crowded freeway is an illusion, since it is typically filled with cars that are 80% empty, about 50% of which are making trips that are short enough to be done more efficiently by transit, cycling or walking.
I’ve lost him again with this rant, but I did make clear that until we get those priorities straightened out, cyclists and the bicycle industry in Wisconsin are not be willing to pay more taxes or fees. Those of us who are making fiscally conservative, libertarian choices need to stop subsidizing those who are making expensive and wasteful choices before we pay another penny.
To his credit, Governor Walker does recognize that we have to repair our roads, but he is quick to explain to me that because people are driving less (I stifle a “yeah!”) and driving more fuel-efficient cars (“yeah” again!) the gas taxes and registration fees will not cover the deferred maintenance we are faced with, nor will they cover the cost of all the expensive new highways he wants to build. In order to get more money for roads, the Governor explains that he had to cut a bunch of things from the transportation budget, like transit and $5 million in state funding for bicycles and pedestrians. Although $5 million seems like a drop in the bucket, Governor Walker suggests that if we count his pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.
The Governor goes on to explain how he has suggested that we take up to 50% of the sales tax on motor vehicles from the general fund and put that money into the transportation budget to help pay for all these sexy new road projects and very necessary maintenance projects. I have to admit, from the “pay your own way” point of view, it is hard to argue with this suggestion, and it finally prompts me to suggest my great idea.
I say, “Great idea Governor, but let’s do the same thing with the sales tax on bicycles and accessories! There are about $150 million in annual bicycle sales in the State of Wisconsin. If we took the 5% sales tax those sales generate for the general fund and put them in transportation, we would have $7,500,000 to spend on bicycles. That is way more than you had to cut from the budget.”
I could go on to argue that while he is only proposing to take 50% of sales taxes from cars, 100% of bike sales taxes should be spent on bike projects. I could argue that leaving 50% of the sales tax on cars in the general fund makes sense since it goes to pay for many of the social costs of driving cars, namely negative impacts health care. Since more people riding bicycles actually has a positive effect on the general economy by reducing health care costs, all the money should go to fund bicycle projects.
So what do you think? Good idea? Will republicans buy it? If it’s good for the goose (motorists), is it good for the gander (cyclists)?