Sunday, March 03, 2013

Idiot Wind

Every now and then news stories come up that are so stupid you feel that they need a big "NOT THE ONION" disclaimer attached to them so they aren't mistaken for satire. Yesterday, my twitter feed erupted with the story of Washington State Representative Ed Orcutt's letter to a state resident regarding the proposed Washington state bicycle tax. The Seattle Bike Blog wrote a good article on Orcutt's letter here and the Cascade Bicycle Club has good coverage here, so I'm not going to repeat their stuff. I will, however, repost Orcutt's email and the note from Dale Carlson to which Representative Orcutt is responding.

—————————- Original Message —————————-
Subject: RE: No new bicycle tax
From:    “Orcutt, Rep. Ed”
Date:    Mon, February 25, 2013 9:59 pm
To:      Dale Carlson


I am not a fan of much in the House Transportation tax proposal nor of many tax proposals, but I have to admit I think there are valid reasons to tax bicycles. Think about this for a moment: Currently motorists are paying to use their cars on the roads while they are actually driving their cars. At the same time, they are paying for bike lanes because there is no gas tax — or any transportation tax — generated by the act of riding a bike on the roadways. So, if cars pay for the roads they are using, it only makes sense that bicyclists would also be required to pay for the ‘roads’ they use when they are actually biking on them.

Also, you claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclists has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.  Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.

I know, you own a car and drive so are paying gas tax — but not while you are riding your bike. When you are driving your car and generating gas tax you are also driving on the roads so are only really paying for the roads when driving — not while biking.

Sorry, but I do think that bicyclists need to start paying for the roads they ride on rather than make motorists pay.


Representative Ed Orcutt
20th Legislative District

Olympia Office:
408 John L. O’Brien Building
PO Box 40600
Olympia, WA 98504
e 360.786.7990

—–Original Message—–
From: Dale Carlson
Sent: Sunday, February 24, 2013 9:40 PM
To: Orcutt, Rep. Ed
Subject: NC: No new bicycle tax


TO:  Representative Ed Orcutt

FROM: Dale Carlson(Non-Constituent)

SUBJECT:  No new bicycle tax


People who choose to ride a bicycle instead of driving a car actively
reduce congestion, save wear and tear on our roads and bridges, and reduce the state labor needed to patrol our highways. Additionally, bicyclists produce fewer emissions and reduce healthcare costs through increased physical fitness. Therefore, it is unfair for bicyclists to subsidize the construction and maintenance of highways that they impact far less than the motorists. If anything, new bike purchases should earn a $25.00 tax credit because of the savings they provide to the state.

Not only do I believe that a bike tax is unfair in principle but the proposed amount is disproportionately large compared to vehicle excise taxes in the state. A tax of $25 on a $500 bicycle purchase is 5% of that sale. The vehicle excise tax in the proposed package for the state is 0.7%. The federal government even offers tax credits on electric vehicles, up to $7,500 depending on the value of the vehicle. It’s absurd that Washington state plans on taxing bicyclists while such a credit system exists to promote energy efficiency. Bicycles are far more efficient even than electric cars. Bicyclists already pay substantial sales, property, and federal taxes which fund two-thirds of transportation spending in Washington. Bicyclists who own cars pay the same license tab and other car-related taxes even if they drive less.

This new tax would also hurt the bicycle industry in the state of Washington, an industry that already competes with internet vendors and bordering states with lower sales tax. Bicycle stores near the edges of our state have been impacted for years by the reduced sales tax in Oregon and Idaho. Residents would have 25 more reasons to purchase bikes outside of Washington should this proposal pass. In-state bicycle sales would also be lost to internet vendors based elsewhere which neither pay taxes in Washington nor employee residents of Washington. Surely the loss of tax revenue on in-state bicycle sales would offset the forecasted gains from the proposed tax.

Dale Carlson, Owner
Bike Tech
Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma


I'll also link to Elly Blue's fine analysis of who really pays for roads.

And then you might be thinking I'm going to rant. Well, maybe a little. But I'm kind of speechless, right now. Fortunately, a fellow ex-Minnesotan penned some words a few years back that I'm gonna borrow. Yeah, my buddy Bob, he's got a way with words.

All the lines in italics below are Bob Dylan's from his great song "Idiot Wind" off the classic "Blood on the Tracks."

This was my reaction when I first heard about the proposed bike tax:

Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they'd cut it out quick but when they will I can only guess.

This was my reaction on first reading Rep. Orcutt's letter:

People see me all the time and they just can't remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.

And then Bob really sums up what I'm thinking about Rep. Orcutt when he sings:

Idiot wind blowing every time your move your mouth
Blowing down the backroads heading south
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth
You're an idiot babe
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I also think Bob nails the broken politics of our country here:

Now everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped
What's good is bad what's bad is good you'll find out when you reach the top
You're on the bottom. I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can't remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed your eyes don't look 
Into mine
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone faced while the 
Building burned
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees while the 
Springtime turned
Slowly into autumn.

It's far too easy to just see the idiocy in Rep. Orcutt's letter. But Bob will never let us get off that easily and we, the people of Washington State, have to remember that we elected this guy.

Idiot wind blowing through the buttons of our coats
Blowing through the letters that we wrote
Idiot wind blowing through the dust upon our shelves
We're idiots babe
It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

Vote. It matters.

Write letters. It matters.

Speak truth to power. It matters.

Rage against the machine now and then. It matters.

Listen to our poets. Buy their stuff and keep 'em alive. Because sometime, when you're speechless, they'll have the words you need.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA


Anonymous said...

I am speechless too. You might even say, flabbergasted. Since one of his major rationales is cyclists emitting more CO2 with exercise, I think it only fair pedestrians pay a tax for using sidewalks. (-;

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

In 2000, the average car emitted 258 g of carbon dioxide per kilometer traveled ( In contrast, human beings emit about 1 kg/day. Let's assume that kg/day figure is for someone who consumes 2500 kcal/day; then human carbon dioxide emissions are equal to 0.4 g/kcal.

A typical cyclist might consume 30 kcal/km (about 50 kcal/mile). So the carbon dioxide output for the cyclist is 12 g/km. The car is 258 g/km. Our cyclist emits less than 5% of the carbon dioxide that a typical car emits for the same distance trip.

Now, things may have improved some since 2000, but since carbon dioxide is a byproduct of perfect combustion, any car that uses a gasoline or diesel engine will produce it. The UK version of the new Honda Accord with automatic transmission puts out 168 g/km (, which is still 14 times what a cyclist emits!

Conclusion: Rep. Orcutt really doesn't know what he's talking about.

Craig Brandenburg said...

I'm not sure one even needs to quantify things, as Brian has done in his comment above, to see some logical and ethical problems with taxing cyclists based on cycling's carbon emissions. It suffices to reason that the total carbon dioxide directly emitted by a person correlates over time very closely to their total caloric intake. A cyclist who eats more to compensate for their extra physical exertion doesn't exhale, over the long term, any more carbon than does a sedentary, overweight person who ingests the same quantity of calories. In other words, cycling may burn a lot of calories, but a lot of non-cyclists are already eating as though they do ride a bike. Let it be left as an exercise for the reader to figure out all the reasons why, therefore, taxing cyclists' carbon emissions is a bad idea.

It's also worth pointing out that carbon is a pollutant only when the carbon is emitted as a net gain of carbon in the atmosphere. In theory, people can ride a bike without eating food that was produced using fossil fuels—e.g., food from a backyard garden, etc. In any case, though I'm not a fan of taxing the carbon exhaled by people, the points above suggest to me that if someone is intent on taxing exhaled carbon then it's better to tax the carbon when it's food—and only when the food is produced using fossil fuel inputs. Otherwise you're just taxing some forms of carbon and letting other forms go untaxed.

Johann Rissik said...

I can't think of anything polite to say, so I'll just keep quiet :)

Jim said...

I'm already breathing the polluted air and hearing the constant sounds of car traffic outdoors. I'm already paying for the roads used by cars, just not necessarily in dollars.

Sam J said...

I'm sure the honorable Orcutt believes only half of what he's saying, but he says it all because he doesn't know which half will play to his base.

This is what passes for being thorough these days.

Tim Joe Comstock said...

The American Government is the largest Organized Crime Syndicate on the planet. Pissants like this guy represent exactly one pissant's worth of nonsense. But is there some initiation process where one has to be kicked in the head by a mule to be a Republican?

Wait...I sense a pun here somewhere...