Tag Archives: Oregon

Who Will Build the Bike Lanes?

I recently complained about the government ruining a good thing by taxing it. Pay by the mile auto insurance could turn into pay by the mile auto taxation, if some have their way. The government will always turn a good idea for saving money into a bad idea for losing money.

As an aside in my recent complaint, I pondered the threat of bicycle lane taxes as the next logical step. Too soon I remembered I had heard something like this before! Oregon had been murmuring about a statewide tax on bicycle purchases to make up for the loss of revenue from all those bicycle commuters who ditched their cars for the fresh breezes and healthy conscience of pedal power. This line of reasoning was brought on by the perceived over-bicyclization of Portland, but in this scheme the whole state of Oregon would pay for Portland’s sin of reduced carbon emissions. That’s a dandy.

Oregon is of course one of the few states with no sales tax and Portland is one of the few cities with a bazillion happy bicycle commuters. We even have a huge bike counter on the Hawthorne Bridge to celebrate! Bikes and no sales tax are good things, why mess with it now? The City of Portland spends a lot of money on bicycle-friendly infrastructure improvements which are often perceived at the expense of automobile infrastructure improvements. (There are a number of randomly unpaved gravel roads in my Portland neighborhood, but these are bad for cars and bikes alike – but good for three year olds in rain boots!)

The Oregonian reported that, “There is little organized opposition to bicycle use in Portland … However, there is latent, but pervasive, uneasiness among some residents that expanding bicycling opportunities will come at the expense of other modes of transportation.” Well, only if the state wastes their money on it.

If Portlanders in cars don’t want to pay for bicycle lanes to contain the Portlanders who are not in cars, then surely the people driving around Salem, Bend, and Eugene don’t want to pay for Portland’s bicycle lanes either. Instead of finding a different non-interested party to pay for something they’re not interested in, Portland should hire a private company to build their bike lanes. Paint a line on the side of the road and nail up a few signs. Some people in Seattle will even do it for free, and some folks out in Memphis are paying for their bike lanes with crowdfunding. Big companies are getting involved too, such as Amazon’s two block bike lane project back up in Seattle. It will be cheaper and more efficient if the work is privately contracted and we would cut out wasteful spending on spectacles like the proposed singing bike lane, and just paint some nice straight stripes as needed.

I wonder if the singing bike lane would be funded by the ill-conceived Portland Arts Tax?

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Unconstitutional Arts Tax

Worse tax ever.

A flat $35 tax is due this April from every adult living in the city of Portland. It doesn’t matter what your income is. You just have to have one. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like art (or sending children to government school). The ballot measure, which was approved by voters last November, is the worse kind of tax as there is no relative relation to your income. The rich and the poor pay the same.

After the $0.99 convenience fee to pay online (a tax on a tax?), I’m down $35.99 and have nothing to show for it except a nifty postcard reminding me to pay. If I need to split it into two payments, they charge an extra dollar for their trouble!

From what I can tell, the only exemptions are for those with income below the poverty line. But you have to prove your poverty.

Even if your income is $34 dollars, you own $35.

Opposition to this tax has nothing to do with art or music and everything to do with non-consensual government plunder sanctioned by a majority (62%!). While this opens a whole other conversation on the funding of public education by those who do not use it, why not tax the parents who currently send their students to public school? Call it tuition. If so many people have no problem paying, why not just have them pay? What if it was $350?

Most laughable, some supporters say that “supporting culture (is) an inherent element of social responsibility. That’s something we can all get behind.”

There is no responsibility in forced taxation. Responsibility requires choice and decision. Call it what it is. There is nothing to “get behind.” We’re just getting pulled under the school bus. And they call that “art.”

Leaving Office Early

Republican South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint recently announced that he will be leaving Congress in January. He has served only two years of his second (six year) term, and will be taking a position as President of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Having just been reelected in 2010, should he walk away from the responsibility bestowed by the voters?

You will remember another early-leaver (quitter?). Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate. She had barely cleared the snow from her desk in Juneau before she left office after only 2.5 years. She took a lot of heat for her inexperience while campaigning with John McCain. That feeling only increased when she abruptly left the highest office of the northern state to cash in on her fame by writing a book and joining the television political commentary circuit.

A bit closer to home, and a few years prior, we had a similar situation with current Portland Mayor-Elect, Charlie Hales (set to take office in January 2013). It was 2002 when he left his position as Portland City Commissioner with over a year and a half to go in his third term. He took a job with an engineering firm to promote street car transportation. While in office he was a champion of the streetcar, successfully bringing that form of rail transportation to downtown Portland. During the recent mayoral campaign, he also felt some heat for not sticking it out during his last stint in local politics. Unlike Palin, Hales was forgiven and voted back in.

Is leaving office early acceptable or not?

I suppose there are worse things one could do. Like stick around too long. The States and various jurisdictions have laws for replacing outgoing politicians, so the people are not really at much of a loss on representation. The bigger problem is the opposite problem: those politicians that just don’t seem to ever go away. Term limits are another subject entirely.

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City (2002-current), helped get the rules changed to increase the two-term limit to three-terms in time to let him run again. It’s worked out well for him so far, though many residents seem to wish they hadn’t allowed it. Current governors Jerry Brown (1975-1983!, 2011-current) of California and John Kitzhaber (1995-2003, 2011-current) of Oregon are serving their third terms, though non-consecutive. No rules were changed, and this is a fair move. But it seems like a sneaky maneuver.

Our problems with entrenched politicians pale in comparison to those in other countries, where the powerful maintain their position for many years. Vladimir Putin has manipulated Russian politics for sometime, having served as either Prime Minister or President or Prime Minister or President continuously since 1999. Fidel Castro was of course the leader of Cuba for over 52 years (and some dinosaurs).

We should respect the faithful completion of a full term, but I can appreciate the politician’s decision to leave office early. It’s his life, and he shouldn’t feel entrapped in a position he no longer feels is a good situation. Those who leave seem to have a pretty good gig waiting for them, and they know that they’ll most likely not be welcomed back. We probably won’t see Jim DeMint or Sarah Palin in an elected position anytime soon, though we’ll continue to hear from them. Charlie Hales is playing small ball in local politics, so he can get away with more.

It’s the other guys we have to worry about, and it’s our own fault for voting them back in. Again and again.

Portland’s Plastic Bag Ban

The Portland City Council, led by outgoing Mayor Sam Adams, recently increased its regulation on the use of plastic bags within city limits. Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea, as we’ll now have to head north to Vancouver Washington if we want to keep a plastic bag full of marijuana on our door knob (now legal!). The original plastic bag ban in Portland was established in 2011 and only targeted the largest retail stores. Now all stores, regardless of size, as well as all restaurants and farmers markets have been given notice. The full scope of the intended regulation goes into effect October 2013.

Today the Oregonian reported that state legislators are seeking to push for a statewide ban on the bag. While some cities with similar bans require a fee to use paper bags, Portland graciously allows stores to choose whether or not to implement a fee on paper bag usage. Other stores offer a discount for bringing in your own reusable bag. The proposed state-wide legislation would, “require retailers to charge 5 cents for a paper bag.” (A bag tax).

Portlanders will be using fewer plastic bags than in years past, and this is a good thing. We need to reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources, and we need to see less plastic blowing down our streets. Paper is a better alternative to plastic. We can grow more trees, but plastic bags can be difficult to recycle.

But how might we relieve ourselves of plastic bag waste without government regulation of private business practices?

Would individuals choose to the use paper or cloth bags rather than plastic, if given the choice? Many do it every day with the choice as it stands. I propose that the burden be shared between the stores and the consumers, and the government should stay out of it. Many stores offer reusable bags for sale at a reasonable price, but continue to offer plastic bags as the default option. People use them because they are available and they’re cheap.

These are individual choices that we all need to make. We should allow space in civil society for positive choices made by individuals rather than government mandates on consumer purchases. Businesses can choose to charge for bags without being forced. Shoppers can choose to bring a bag or use paper.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman believes “Portlanders will rise to the challenge.” I say, “What challenge? There is no choice!”

Encourage alternatives and educate! Why should I care what type of bag I use if it doesn’t matter because the choice was already made by the government? We’re not making decisions to meet a challenge if there is no choice. Some think their neighbors are too dumb to make the right decision themselves, and so they must be forced to fall in line. Have we tried hard enough at the friendly art of persuasion? Can we provide another incentive to stop using plastic bags besides the force of law? Some people are simply unaware and ignorant, and would make a wiser choice if they had more information. By taking away the power of choice, government is perpetuating ignorance.

At least the plastic bag ban craze is happening at the local and state level. Check out this map. The last thing we need is a federal law which regulates how I transport my six-pack of Oregon micro-brew from the corner store to my home.