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The E-Bike Rebate: What's Next
What’s not in it!
Last night, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced they had a deal on a climate, health care and deficit reduction bill, which could pass as part of a reconciliation bill. That means it would need all of the Senate Democrats (plus Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote) and almost every single House Democrat to vote for it. The Inflation Reduction Act, as the deal is being called, represents a scaled-back version of the Build Back Better Act promoted by the Biden Administration.
The Build Back Better Act was much bigger and more expensive than the Inflation Reduction Act, so we did see a number of programs and tax provisions dropped. Let’s look at what didn’t make it in and what we can learn from those choices, starting with the e-bike tax rebate.
We are incredibly frustrated we weren’t successful in getting an e-bike tax rebate in the bill. We haven’t given up, and we’ve learned quite a bit in the process.
First, I want to say thank you to PeopleForBikes who led the advocacy fight, and to our congressional champions Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jim Panetta (D-CA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Ed Markey (D-MA). Without their leadership and support, we could not have gotten this far.
Second, I want to talk through what we learned in the process, what our next steps are and how you can help.
Takeaways for the next round of E-Bike advocacy and Next Steps
Most Members of Congress (like most Americans) are unfamiliar with E-bikes and their benefits. We have been working to change that – we hosted an e-bike “petting zoo” on Capitol Hill during the National Bike Summit! But the fact remains that most in Congress are far more familiar with electric cars –even if they haven’t driven them they have seen Teslas and others in DC and in their districts. For members who represent rural, exurban and even suburban districts, they likely have seen an e-bike, but might not have recognized it as such. That makes them more likely to see an e-bike tax rebate as a benefit only for urban districts. If you don’t know (or think you don’t know) anyone who uses an e-bike, then it becomes more difficult to justify a $7.4 billion program for e-bike tax rebates.
We’ll keep up our education efforts on Capitol Hill so more members and their staffers can experience the real benefits of e-bikes.
- What can you do to help? If you are part of a community group like kidical mass or others consider inviting your representative out for a ride.
We need the support of the Environmental Community. When a Member of Congress has a question about a climate solution, they don’t come to the bike community for an answer. They go to the climate experts. The climate and environmental organizations have been focused on electric cars more than any other solution, and have pushed for e-cars as one of their top priorities. We all need to reach out beyond the bike community to make this happen.
The League has been talking to and working with environmental advocates to get them on board with e-bikes as part of the solution. While some organizations, like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), have thrown their support behind e-bikes, for most of the community we are a ‘nice to have’ and not a priority.
- What can you do to help? Are you a member of a local chapter of an environmental organization? Consider making a presentation to them about e-bikes, see if you can make an opportunity to get them to experience e-bikes. Talk to your local government. We’ve seen cities from Las Vegas, NV, to Cherokee, NC, invest in e-bikes for staff trips and even for first responders.
One big reason the benefit was a hard sell: the Congressional Budget experts priced the e-bike benefit too high, making it seem more costly than it was. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that a maximum rebate of $750/person on e-bikes (only for those making $75,000 or less) would have cost $7.4 billion over 10 years. The same budget office estimated that a tax rebate on electric cars with a minimum of $4000 and a maximum of $12,000/person (for those making $400,000 or less) would have cost $15 billion over ten years. PeopleForBikes and other industry voices did talk with the committee, but given the lack of experience with e-bikes, the estimate discouraged Congressional offices from supporting this over other programs in the bill.
- What can you do to help? PeopleForBikes is working with state and local advocacy organizations on state-level e-bike tax incentives, similar to the ones in California and Colorado, and the bill in the Massachusetts legislature right now! With more data on associated costs from the state level, we may be able to show a federal rebate would not be as high as previously estimated.
Getting Ready for Tax Season
For the most part, the League and other advocates have focused on building relationships with Congressional members and staff who focus on transportation law. Working on the e-bike benefit means getting to know the tax experts, who don’t usually think about or work on bicycling or transportation. We’ll keep building on the relationships we’ve made this year.
- What can you do to help? If your Senator is on the Finance Committee or your Representative is on the Ways and Means Committee, consider meeting with them this August when they are in their home districts. Talk to them about your experience with an e-bike, and consider working with a local bicycle or environmental organization to get them out on a bike ride.
The Manchin-Schumer agreement wasn’t all bad, despite our disappointment about the e-bike rebate. It includes $3 billion to build better places to ride, especially for low-income and underserved communities. We believe switching car trips to bike trips is critical to meeting our country’s climate goal, and know that increasing safe, accessible and comfortable bike infrastructure is necessary to make that happen.