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Shop owner: Bike tax could hurt local businesses more than it helps roads

Wechsler worried that if such a tax was imposed, it would only encourage his customers to by online out of state, hurting him and other local retailers. (Image courtesy Montlake Bike Shop)

A tax proposed to help Washington state’s continuously ailing transportation budget could hurt small businesses says a Seattle bike shop owner.

Neil Wechsler owns the Montlake Bicycle Shop in Seattle. He joined KIRO Radio’s Andrew Walsh Show to talk about how the potential tax would effect him and his business.

The transportation revenue package, as proposed in Olympia on Wednesday, included a $25 sales fee on bicycles sold for $500 or more, which is expected to bring in $1 million over the next ten years.

The package, as a whole is expected to bring in $9.8 billion. The centerpiece of the funding is a 10 cent increase in the gasoline tax that would be phased in. Transportation Committee chair Judy Clibborn thinks motorists can handle that.

The funding plan would help reduce a backlog of maintenance that’s part of an estimated $50 billion in state transportation needs. In addition to $1 billion for both the state and local governments to maintain infrastructure, the package would allocate about $3 billion to help fund new and existing road projects.

Wechsler worried that if such a tax was imposed, it would only encourage his customers to buy bikes online out of state, hurting him and other local retailers. “Anybody from out of state who sells bicycles to people in Washington won’t have to pay the tax.”

Andrew suggested that while the fee might be imposed on bicyclists who often drive less, it brings them into an common conversation in the Seattle area: bikes and the war on cars.

Wechsler doesn’t believe such a war exists, though sometimes there is tension between bikes and cars on the road. “I ride a bike a lot. Almost every day. I drive a car occasionally. I see both sides of what it’s like as an experience. And yes, once in a while I see a little antagonism.”

It doesn’t happen very often though, he says. Just an occasional person who once in a while gets mad. “I went to college here, back in 1970, and I rode my bike all the time back then too and I don’t feel like it’s any more or less antagonistic between car drivers and bicyclists.”

And while taxing bicycles brings riders into a conversation that they might otherwise avoid if they avoid most car commutes, Wechsler argues the state would be able to save money if more people used their bike to commute.

Representative Judy Clibborn told Andrew that the portion of the package that includes the taxes on bicycles may not even make it into a bill that’s passed. But she was interested that it started a conversation.

KIRO Radio’s Tim Haeck contributed to this report.


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