Home > Design the Details, Economics > Wayne Schmidt’s tire tax full of punctures

Wayne Schmidt’s tire tax full of punctures

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Turning the Crank

This week, I was sent a question for MyWHaT via Twitter: “Mich Rep. Wayne Schmidt is talking a tire surcharge that would include #bikes as part of road funding convo…Thoughts?” I replied with expletives, but I was cranky that day. Here are some of my thoughts after thinking about it for a few days. I still might be cranky. 

Traverse City’s native son, Rep. Wayne Schmidt, recently threw out some ideas on funding transportation in Michigan. Here at MyWHaT we’re fully aware that the funding model is broke and creative ideas need to be pursued (T4A), but Schmidt’s idea of an excise tax on tires, including bicycle tires, is at best fruitless and at worst a signal that the minds in Lansing continue to embrace silly (MITech) (Another GOP silly: Dipping into the Nat. Resource Trust Fund (DetNews)).

I’ve been following talks about excise taxes on bicycles for years now and I was wondering when it’d raise its vacuous head in Michigan. That Rep. Schmidt is mentioning it to ensure  “everyone is paying their fair share” is the clearest sign that after all these years on transportation committees he never fully grasped that some people have already been paying more of their fair share, and it’s not when we are driving.

To be fair, here is his full quote from an interview with Gonwer News:

We also should look at, and it might not be the right idea, but ORVs and bicycles. When you’re looking at it, since we have bicycle lanes or bigger shoulders on county roads, maybe it is something that you look at to make sure everyone is paying their fair share. Some people are concerned, and it is an issue with alternative fuel and electric vehicles, are people paying their fair share? We’re tossing out a variety of ideas, I’m not going to say this is the end all, be all, but let’s talk about it. I’m not going to dismiss anything right out of hand.”

It’s obvious, he is simply testing the waters and leaving plenty of room to back-off. Still, not sure how ORV’s and Bicycles are tied together and there isn’t a lot of trust for the current GOP leadership to do the right thing. They’ve shown resistance to have open, fair debates. The last legislative session and Rep. Schmidt’s performance during the vagina dance back in August leaves little room for the benefit of the doubt (Huff) from a skeptical citizenry that simply want to see roads fixed, streets built for everyone, and transit properly funded.

Back to taxes

Due to years of stagnate increases of the gas tax, the biggest drain on transportation budgets are motor-vehicles. Nationally, the subsidy from the general fund is nearly 50% of the cost (StreetsBLOG). In Michigan, the subsidy from the general fund and local millages for all transportation spending is 70% (Tax Foundation). If we remove the interstate highways and expressways, and look only at the funding for local streets, there are many cities that see about 5%-10% of those road and street projects paid for by anything resembling a user fee (gas tax, toll, registration fees). The PRIG report, “Roads Don’t Pay for Themselves”, found that since 1947, our highways, roads, and streets have been subsidized around $600 billion. This is without calculating the associated costs of poor health, crashes, environmental and social degradation, which would catapult the subsidy into the trillions.

We all pay, some get more back

All of us are already paying for the poorly designed roads, streets, and underfunded transit systems. We even do so when we mow our lawn, so the idea that we have a true user fee system is foolish. The bottom line, those of us who choose to drive less are actually subsidizing those that choose to drive more, so if Rep. Schmidt wants to talk about fairness, let’s have that talk.

Let’s pretend for a moment that the gas tax actually is progressive and adequately “taxes” based off of the impact a vehicle has on the network–loosely mitigating the impact of speed, weight, and distance traveled; the causes of potholes, crushed curbs, and other physical impacts that must be repaired (MW).

Not all tires equal

As drivers, wheeling around in a 1.5 ton vehicle and driving 10,000 miles, we pay on average $350 a year in gas tax and registration fees to mitigate the impacts and maintain old and new roadways. When we apply a similar formula to a 30 pound bicycle traveling 1,500 miles a year, a “fair” excise tax to charge a bicycle, using the same ratio, comes to around $0.63 per year. Using my back of the napkin math, and recognizing that less than $1 per bike is too insignificant to bother, anything higher than $0.63 a year would be, once again passing a greater burden of our car centric planning on those doing the most to mitigate it by their own choices of transportation. Anything higher than this would be discouraging exactly the activity communities want to see to help reduce  congestion, reduce environmental impacts,  and create communities worth living in.

Gas taxes have come a long way since they could be argued a true “user fee” and the idea that when we drive and use fuel the fees we pay, pay for much of anything needs to evolve. Unfortunately, with leaders like Rep Schmidt still operating under a fallacy of faux-fairness and true user fees (SB), I don’t see much coming out of Lansing to 1) adequately fund the infrastructure we need for next 50 years and, 2) achieve any sort of fairness that puts the onus of cost on the use that costs society the most. If they are dedicated to user fee model, then the simple and fair solution is increase the gas tax nationally and in the state, and honestly recognize that a good portion of it needs to be directed towards mitigating the external costs of motordom (MW).

I walk. I bike. I bus. And, I drive. And, I willingly pay taxes. However, I don’t see myself supporting this idea.


What are your thoughts?

Are their conditions where you’d accept increasing the cost of riding a bike to help pay for transportation?

What if 10%-20% was dedicated to bicycle infrastructure?

You can send comments to your representative to WayneSchmidt@house.mi.gov





Reminder: Before commenting, please read the comments policy. If you feel you need to rant against the world while raising enumerable tangential issues to personally attack individuals or organizations, consider creating your own blog and tracking back to MyWHaT. If it is of value, you will attract readers. Or, send me a message with all the rants you wish; I’m a connoisseur of ranting. Otherwise, please contribute to a healthy, friendly discussion in the comments section below.

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  1. January 31, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Thank you Gary….boy this CAN get us cranky! Fuel taxes and license fees, plus the general fund, need a new look. Taxing tires? I was set back a few years ago in England when a hotel keeper informed me they pay an “energy tax” on the firewood they burn in fireplaces! Are we going to go there? Contrary to popular belief, pot holes do NOT come from traffic but salt…calcium chloride. Salt should be taxed out of existence. Doubt me? Look at the crumbling sidewalks where salt is dropped. Concrete spalling is everywhere. Look at your garage floor where salt drops off your car. Salt is chemically the opposite of limestone and is a “vinegar & soda” chemical reaction. Prove it. Every winter day put a few grains of calcium chloride on a limestone rock. Within weeks, it will split….and you never pass a car or truck over it. PLUS, if you or I ever towed a huge barge of “salt” down the bay and dumped it, we’d certainly be arrested and fined…yet every day all winter long, road commissions dump untold tons onto the streets and roads, that all washes into the bay. It’s a poison. If we keep salinating the bay, expect sharks as the next invasive species! I’ve lived in Traverse City for 57 winters now…it’s snowed every single one of them. Like boots, hats, gloves, coats, shovels….snow tires and winter “driving” skills need to be a part of winter. Dumping salt on our streets, to dumb down drivers, is causing the greatest single destruction of our paved infrastructure….one we cannot afford to maintain. Stop the madness…stop buying salt. If you can’t drive in the winter without salt…don’t!

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