Senate committee hears voluntary bicycle donation bill

Senate committee hears voluntary bicycle donation bill

“There are concerns that bicyclists don’t pay their fair share… This bill provides an avenue for those of us that support bike and pedestrian facilities to provide additional funding.”
— Sen. Jackie Dingfelder

Oregon lawmakers considered a bill yesterday that would allow Oregonians to make a voluntary donation to bicycle trail projects through their annual motor vehicle registration renewal. Senate Bill 756 didn’t get a vote, but it gave bike advocates and members of the Senate Committee on Business and Transportation a lot to think about it.

Senator Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland), the bill’s co-sponsor along with Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), told the committee that she’s, “Been concerned” over the years with legislators who have proposed various bicycle taxes and mandatory registration concepts. “That being said,” she testifed, “There are concerns that bicyclists don’t pay their fair share. I think we already do pay our fair share, and this bill provides an avenue for those of us that support bike and pedestrian facilities to provide additional funding.”

The bill seeks to funnel voluntary donations to the existing Oregon State Parks and Recreation Fund. The money would be directed specifically toward Parks’ Scenic Bikeways program via a check-box on vehicle registration forms sent out by the DMV. Dingfelder called it an “innovative approach” and said it’s a “ready-made program.”

Jerry Norquist, former executive director of Cycle Oregon and president of the Bicycle Tour Network, is the architect of the bill. Norquist has considerable experience in the legislature on a number of issues and he also spearheaded Oregon’s Share the Road license plate. During his testimony yesterday, Norquist wanted to paint a picture of massive popular support for bicycling in Oregon. He pointed out that the Share the Road plate is the “Most successful group plate ever issued in our state,” with over 17,000 plates sold so far.

Norquist pointed the major economic impact of bicycling on our state and told lawmakers, “I think we are poised to be the #1 bicycle destination in the country… Cycle Oregon alone contributes $5.5 million per year to the state’s economy.”

“We have this great activity,” he added, “but we don’t have the infrastructure to do it.”

“What can we do to get you the infrastructure you need? We’re getting a lot of tourism out of it.”
— Sen. Fred Girod

For Norquist, the passage of SB 756 would mean much-needed dedicated funding for the State Scenic Bikeway program, which has been runaway success in just a few short years despite operating on a shoestring (the program’s seed funding came via a Cycle Oregon grant).

Asked by a Senator how much he expects the bill to raise each year, Norquist estimated the annual contribution of between $50,000 and $6 million. He based his estimate on the 250,000 renewals sent out by the DMV each month (a figure that was contested by the DMV later in the hearing). Even on the low end at $50,000 a year in contributions, Norquist said the Scenic Bikeway program would return millions to the state in tourism and related impacts. “We need a consistent funding source,” he said, “and I think this bill would provide that.”

Throughout the hearing Senators seemed intent on sharing their own ideas about how to raise money for bicycle-specific infrastructure. Senator Fred Girod (R-Stayton) wondered why SB 756 is preferable over bicycle registration, an idea he thinks would raise much more money. Senator Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) proposed a tax on bicycle tires. One Senator jokingly suggested a spandex tax that could be levied by the square foot.

Ultimately, Sen. Girod said he likes SB 756 but questioned whether it would raise enough money to “get you where you need to go.” “What can we do to get you the infrastructure you need? We’re getting a lot of tourism out of it.” In response, BTA lobbyist Jonathan Manton explained to Girod that this bill isn’t intended as “an answer to the dire funding situation we face.”

“When folks say this is just adding a check-box to a form, that’s the front end, but the back end of it is quite a bit more complex than that.”
— Amy Joyce, Oregon DMV

Girod made it clear that he supports raising funds for bicycle infrastructure only if it comes directly from people how ride bicycles. “I hate to say it, but you guys need to put some skin in the game. It’s just a matter of figuring out how.”

The final person to offer testimony on the bill was Amy Joyce, a spokeswoman for the Oregon DMV. Joyce tamped down assertions by Dingfelder and Prozanski that the bill would be as simple as adding a checkbox to a few forms. The DMV is already on record as saying SB 756 would require 900 hours of staff time and programming to implement (a number scoffed at by several Senators). Joyce also spoke to the many logistical considerations this bill would bring up. “We send out 1.5 million renewals each year and we have about five different ways of processing them and all these different ways would have to be changed in order to receive a donation.”

“When folks say this is just adding a check-box to a form,” said Joyce, “That’s the front end, but the back end of it is quite a bit more complex than that.”

Joyce did however, offer up one feasible option. One of the ways people renew their licenses is via the DMV website. Joyce said they’ve already begun discussions with State Parks about how an online donation could be implemented. “If we limited it to online registration renewal only, that could be done for next to nothing.”

The downside of the online-only option is that the donation solicitation would reach only about 16% of Oregonians. Joyce explained that only about 20,000 renewals a month — out of 120,000 a month — are done online.

Joyce also had another word of caution that resonated with the lawmakers: “If we do this, there’s no doubt there would be new comers with each new legislative session.” In other words, if SB 756 is passed, it would open the floodgates for similar donation requests (like the donation section of tax returns).

In the end, the Committee did not take a vote on the bill. “We will think about this for a while,” said Chair Lee Beyer. Stay tuned.

More 2013 Legislative Session coverage in the archives.

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