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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

A New Tax on Bicycles?
Sacramento disconnected from reality…

[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 3/24/05

As Earth Day approaches and gasoline prices rise, one legislator seems determined to make environmentally friendly transportation more costly for Californians.

Betty Karnette, a Long Beach Democrat, wants to slap a $7 fee on the purchase of, yes, bicycles, the pollution-free contraptions many commuters use for daily transportation here in the capital. The claimed motive for AB 1103, Karnette’s measure, is recycling.

Assemblywoman Karnette believes landfills are packed to capacity. She envisions a series of recycling centers that would take old bikes that might be junked and work them into community programs that would loan the bikes to, as one account put it, “commuters or disadvantaged youth.” Before legislators opt to roll with this measure, they should consider a point or two.

Bicycles are not a disposal problem in California. One does not see them piled up beside the road. Those that are discarded quickly vanish and the parts find their way onto other bikes. Metal frames can already be recycled and are usually snapped up by entrepreneurial types. And groups such as the Salvation Army accept discarded bikes and refurbish them.

Bicycles are also already a favored means of transportation for both commuters and the disadvantaged, one reason they are prime targets for theft. A tax on new bikes might make them more so. A bike could be stolen for the $3 fee Karnette's legislation would give to those turning in bikes to a recycling center. The other $4 – most of the money – is slated for administrative costs.

By one estimate, the trade in new bicycles in California amounts to three to four million dollars every year. By the calculation of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Karnette's tax would add nearly 10 percent to the price of bicycles sold in discount stores, a common point of purchase. The $7 tax would come in addition to the already hefty state sales tax of nearly eight percent.

Karnette told reporters that the $7 levy she wants is "not a tax." She describes it as a fee. One may also call a duck a chicken, but that does not change reality. The measure is indeed a tax that would fatten government and make life more difficult for bicycle dealers. It would bring in an estimated $28 million a year and feed the illusions of politicians who believe that such measures help the disadvantaged. They don't.

AB 1103 is not backed by any new studies on recycling patterns. It would punish people who seek to use a zero-emission form of transportation. But it does underscore the unreality that exists in Sacramento.

Recall the "laugh tax," an attempt during the 1990s to tax editorial cartoons as though they were works of art purchased in a gallery. In similar style, AB 1103 will help make a national laughingstock out of California, supposedly an environmentally conscious state.

The market for bicycles, new and used, works better than any scheme politicians can invent, with one possible exception. Those who want to see more Californians avail themselves of healthy, pollution-free transportation should consider exempting bicycles from the sales tax. CRO

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute




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