$90K for Bike Kiosks

Written by Jeff Johnson on December 18, 2012. Posted in General

I’ve got a bike, you can ride it if you like…

I’ve got a bike.
You can ride it if you like.
It’s got a basket,
A bell that rings,
And things to make it look good.
I’d give it to you if I could
But I borrowed it.

– BIKE, by Pink Floyd

I’m a bit late with this post, but I thought it a good way to close out 2012.  A couple weeks ago, the board voted  to contribute $90,000 to the purchase and installation of bicycle-sharing kiosks in Minneapolis.  The expenditure passed on a vote of 6 – 1.  I was the “no” vote.

This purchase will be part of the Nice Ride Minnesota program, those bright green bikes you sometimes see in downtown Minneapolis that provide anyone who pays a small fee the use of a bike for short trips.  The user fee does not pay the cost of the program, so in the past, both capital and operating subsidies have been provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield, the City of Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, Macalester College and other entities.

Nice Ride has been a relatively popular program with some people.  That is why I have supported allowing Nice Ride to use county-owned property free-of-charge to house its kiosks in the past.  This expenditure, however, moved the county taxpayers to an entirely different role – that of a program funder.

Now, let me first say that I’m not one who believes that Nice Ride Minnesota is part of a U.N. plot or is leading further down the slippery slope of European socialism.  It’s a perfectly pleasant amenity provided to tourists, students and those working in downtown Minneapolis.  BUT, should the taxpayers of Hennepin County be paying to subsidize this perfectly pleasant amenity?

Just a couple weeks after voting to fund this program, the same Hennepin County Board voted to raise the county property tax levies for 2013 by over $6 million.  We argued, as we always do, that money is tight for the government and that a tax increase is reasonable because we as a board are fantastically careful with our constituents’ money – only making wise and necessary expenditures.

Personally, I don’t view this expenditure as very strong evidence of that position.

I recognize that subsidized bicycles are a nice benefit for some people, but we should not be spending our constituents’ money to fund a program simply because it provides a nice benefit to some people.  Examples abound of potential government spending programs that would provide a nice benefit to some, but in the end, we don’t fund most of those programs because our constituents’ checkbooks are not limitless.

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