BIKE CLASS (copy)

Alissa Tambone, left, and Galen Wiese, both of Madison, look at Galen's bike during a University Bicycle Resource Center free bike class by We Are All Mechanics at the Helen C. White parking garage, in Madison, on April 15, 2015. photo by Michelle Stocker

MICHELLE STOCKER

A controversial one-time bike tax has a "less than 50 percent" chance of being passed, said the co-chairman of the Wisconsin Legislature's budget committee on Thursday.

"We're looking for ideas," Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, told reporters. "It's not a definite, that's for sure."

The proposal was floated in a May 19 Legislative Fiscal Bureau paper on the repeal of the "complete streets" program, included in Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal. Complete streets requires that bike and pedestrian uses be figured into transportation projects.

The budget projected savings of $3.7 million a year if the program were repealed. But the Fiscal Bureau estimated that the repeal would save $190,500 a year.

The paper offered a one-time $25 bike registration fee, which would be collected from bike sellers and deposited into the state transportation fund, as a means to fund the program. The LFB estimated that the fee would generate $7.2 million over two years.

Nygren said Thursday that lawmakers have heard pushback over the years about the fact that bike paths are funded by the state's gas tax, so in putting together the budget, they looked for other options.

The bike tax is one of many things the Joint Finance Committee has bounced off of the Fiscal Bureau, he said.

"It's been discussed. I don't know that there's support for it," he said.

The fee would only apply to bikes larger than 20 inches, to avoid attaching fees to children's bikes.

Nygren said some stakeholders in the bike community were supportive of the idea, while others balked. 

The Wisconsin Bike Federation and Trek Bicycles have both asked their members and customers to contact their legislators and oppose the proposal. 

"Now is not the time to tax products that improve health, reduce congestion, and create a better environment," wrote John Burke, president of Trek.

Burke is the brother of Mary Burke, the Democrat who ran against Walker in 2014. Mary Burke worked as an executive at Trek twice in the 1990s and 2000s.

Bike Fed executive director Dave Cieslewicz told the Cap Times on Wednesday that Republicans were singling out the bike industry as "the one industry they want to tax."

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"I think the reason these anti-bike policies are being proposed is it’s a red-meat issue for a lot of Republicans," Cieslewicz told the Cap Times. "They have stereotypes about what cyclists are and they don’t see them as their voters. They see attacks on cycling as politically beneficial."

Nygren said it depends on an individual or group's interpretation whether the proposal would amount to a fee or a tax. Since it's being used for transportation, Nygren said, he would call it a fee.

"It's a gray area," he said.

Walker has pledged to never raise taxes.

"I think it comes down to, if the people that are actually going to benefit from it are on board with it ... yeah, I think that's something I could support," Nygren said. 

Cap Times reporter Steven Elbow contributed to this report.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.