Lawmaker floats new tax on bicycle sales

A cyclist pedals down University Farm Road on Tuesday. Lawmakers in Augusta are currently considering a new law which aims to tax all bicycles sold in Maine, with revenues benefiting improved biking thoroughfares.
A cyclist pedals down University Farm Road on Tuesday. Lawmakers in Augusta are currently considering a new law which aims to tax all bicycles sold in Maine, with revenues benefiting improved biking thoroughfares.
Posted April 12, 2011, at 5:31 p.m.
Last modified April 12, 2011, at 5:53 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Everything from junior’s first two-wheeler to the highest-end road bike would cost more under a Republican lawmaker’s plan that would apply a new tax on bicycles purchased in Maine.

The bill, LD 1189, would levy a 2 percent surcharge on all retail purchases of bicycles bought after Oct. 1. The funds would be devoted to building, improving and maintaining “bikeways” along the state’s roads. The purpose, according to the bill’s sponsor, is to make cycling safer, particularly along Maine’s thousands of miles of narrow, rural roadways.

“This is not an anti-bike bill,” Rep. Ralph Sarty of the western Maine town of Denmark told members of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee at Tuesday’s public hearing. “I find it surprising in a sense that there’s been as much objection from people who do enjoy the sport to in some way [contribute] to making their sport safer.”

The bill was prompted by complaints from truckers, many of whom have had close calls with bicyclists on rural roads, Sarty said. The state’s existing law requires motorists to give three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist. But that’s not enough to ensure the safety of the cyclist, and it puts the burden squarely on the operator of the motor vehicle, Sarty said.

Opponents of the bill said the new tax would discourage Mainers from commuting on bicycles as gas prices climb, and put small bike shops — particularly those in southern Maine — out of business as they compete with sales-tax-free New Hampshire and the Internet.

“I could open a bike store in Porstmouth [N.H.], and I’m sure I’d get a lot more business if this bill passed,” said Jonathan Huff of Falmouth.

Nancy Grant, the executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said bicycle owners already pay local and state taxes that go toward road improvements and that bicycles do minimal damage to roads compared with cars and trucks.

She said any revenue from the new tax would not go far in maintaining — much less constructing — new bike lanes. Those lanes presumably also would be used by pedestrians, said opponents, one of whom jokingly suggested lawmakers also apply the 2 percent tax to sneakers purchased in Maine.

“Mainers want fewer taxes, not more,” said Grant, whose group has about 5,000 members in the state. “Another tax would not signal that Maine is open for business.”

The bill also was opposed by the Maine Merchants Association, whose spokesman said the group is against anything that makes it more difficult to do business in Maine.

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