When you tax something, you get
less of it. It’s a fundamental rule most creators of government
economic policy know or at least claim to know. The rule has been
used for Nanny State meddling for ages, piling on bigger taxes on
disliked consumer goods like cigarettes, gasoline, and alcohol. The
revenue can be used for good things, proponents say, like
government programs to help children, the environment, and improve
There’s an obvious flaw here – if the paternalistic nudging
works, less money will be spent on the taxed goods, which then
reduces the revenue for government programs (and the employees –
both public and private – whose livelihoods have grown dependent on
them) the taxes created in the first place. California has seen
this in its
children’s programs funded by the state’s cigarette taxes.
California’s gas taxes went from the second-highest in the
country to the highest in the country entirely to make up for the
loss of revenue caused by people buying less gas, an obvious and
predictable outcome of having such high gas taxes.
So what happens when the government’s grand Nanny State plan
works and people start living the healthier, more environmentally
friendly lives city and state functionaries want for us? Will they
start scaling back all these programs funded by those now-redeemed
sinners? No, don’t be silly. They’ll start looking for new ways to
tax them. Several states and municipalities are looking for ways to
drag revenue off of bicyclists. A Chicago City Council member
proposed a $25 annual tax for cyclists. The Associated Press
A city councilwoman’s recent proposal to institute a $25 annual
cycling tax set off a lively debate that eventually sputtered out
after the city responded with a collective “Say what?” A number of
gruff voices spoke in favor, feeding off motorists’ antagonism
toward what they deride as stop sign-running freeloaders.
Bike-friendly bloggers retorted that maybe pedestrians ought to be
charged a shoe tax to use the sidewalks.
“There’d be special bike cops pulling people over? Or cameras?
What do you do (to enforce this)?” asked Mike Salvatore, owner of
Heritage Bicycles, a new Chicago hangout that neatly blends a
lively cafe with a custom bike-building workshop in a 19th-century
Chicago is by no means the only place across the U.S. tempted to
see bicyclists as a possible new source of revenue, only to run
into questions of fairness and enforceability. That is testing the
vision of city leaders who are transforming urban expanses with
bike lanes and other amenities in a quest for relevance, vitality
and livability – with never enough funds.
Two or three states consider legislation each year for some type
of cycling registration and tax – complete with decals or
mini-license plates, National Conference of State Legislatures
policy specialist Douglas Shinkle said. This year, it was Georgia,
Oregon, Washington and Vermont. The Oregon legislation, which
failed, would even have applied to children.
“I really think that legislators are just trying to be as
creative as possible and as open to any sort of possibilities to
fill in any funding gaps. Everything is on the table,” he said.
Oops. If cities and states wanted more of this behavior and less
of the “naughty” (imagine an army of scare quotes around that
word), shouldn’t they have prepared for declining revenue? Now that
they’ve taken cars off the streets, how do they pay for the roads
the bicyclists are using? Tax them, too, and watch as the Nanny
State mask slips. The money was always more important than
encouraging healthy living.
Tying infrastructure taxes to the citizens who use such
infrastructure isn’t itself a bad idea, but that doesn’t seem to be
the approach most governments are taking. The AP notes Colorado
Springs has a special sales tax for bicycles that the community
accepts as a way to help fund cycling projects. Other cities and
states, though, seem to just be trying to get money.
from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2013/12/27/what-does-government-do-when-people-star