We have previously discussed the counterproductive increases in taxes that have been implemented recently without consideration of their impact on behavior or revenue. France’s ridiculous 75 percent tax on the rich is an obvious example (now even the former French president is reportedly planning to flee the taxes for England). So is our high tax on corporations while Canada continues to lower its tax just next door. There are also reports of high earners like Tiger Woods leaving California and New York in the face of high increases. A smaller but even more moronic tax is being contemplated by Alexandria, Virginia where the city council is considering a law forcing people to register bikes so that they can be forced to pay a fee.
When most cities are trying to get people to ride bikes to reduce congestion and pollution, the Alexandria City Council will actually deter such beneficial conduct.
There is already a 25 cent registration fee on the books since 1963 but it has been wisely ignored. I can understand a voluntary registration program for theft but the tax or fee component is not a good idea. Indeed, I would not make this mandatory even as to the registration to add yet another permitting obligation on citizens.
Old Town resident Kathryn Papp had an argument in favor of the registration that only a bureaucrat would love: “Cars are registered and charged a fee. Motorcycles are registered and charged a fee. Almost every vehicle on the roadway is registered and charged a fee.” So why not bikes, scooters, and roller blades? It is a particularly bizarre argument from someone who seems to feel incomplete with the failure to require universal registration of personal items with an attendant fee. Why not just like Papp register her bikes and pay the fee?
I used to live in Old Towne as well as other parts of Alexandria. I loved my time there but the city was always a tax-heavy jurisdiction. Those taxes were often discussed by my neighbors as a reason to move out of the city. Yet, this proposal shows an almost stereotypically knee-jerk approach to taxes. The natural state for people like Papp and these council members is for things to be regulated and taxed. It even produces discomfort for people like Papp to have part of her life unregulated and untapped. Taxes are like some warm blanket of government companionship for the regulatory lonely.
This story struck a cord with me because it highlights the tendency — particularly of some liberal politicians — to treat taxes as if they occur in a vacuum with no behavioral response. People are rational actors and will conform their conduct to avoid costs or inconvenience. In this case, you have an activity which is universally viewed as beneficial to the city and the environment. The response is to now regulate and tax it. Truly bizarre.