New Bike Taxes & Fees May Be Proposed

As the Wisconsin legislature starts to churn during the winter and spring you may be hearing discussion about license and fee increases related to natural resources. Here’s what’s going on.

The Department of Natural Resources has identified a $4 million to $6 million annual gap in the amount of money it is authorized to invest in fish and wildlife programs (like hiring wardens and stocking fish in lakes and streams) and the amount of money it is raising through licenses and fees (such as deer hunting and fishing licenses.)

The DNR has also opened a discussion on a new registration requirement for canoes and kayaks, designed to generate funds for water resource management.

In addition, the governor has mentioned that he is likely to propose an increase in camping fees for state parks. That is a result of a decision by the governor and legislature to eliminate all general taxpayer support for parks – not so long ago the state had a rule that half of parks costs would be borne by the general fund and half by fees.

A host of state outdoor recreation fee increases may be considered by the legislature in its upcoming budget debates.

So far nobody has proposed an increase in the $25 annual fee or $5 daily fee for bicyclists who ride state trails. But it seems likely that with fee increases being discussed for most other outdoor activities someone will ask why trail passes aren’t being included.

In addition, when the discussion comes to a new registration requirement for things like canoes and kayaks a natural question will be why a registration requirement isn’t extended to bikes. The most obvious answer is that registration for canoes and kayaks is being proposed as a response to a deficit in a fund that directly deals with water resources. However, there is also a deficit in trails funding with trail passes covering only a fraction of the actual costs of managing them.

The Bike Fed will be actively involved in these discussions. Our take on this is that – as long as the trail pass revenue is going to go for better trail maintenance – we would be fine with a modest increase.

This stance would be consistent with what other user groups are saying about their proposed fee increases. For example, both Ducks Unlimited and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation have endorsed hunting license price increases as long as the funds are used to improve habitat and related DNR functions.

But this is distinct from talk last session about a more general bike tax. In the last state budget a one-time $25 “registration fee” was proposed for most sales of new bikes in the state. We joined the bike industry and local bike shops in opposition to that because it really was essentially a special sales tax on bikes. It might have hurt already struggling local small business owners. And of course the state and most county governments already collect a 5.5% sales tax on sales of bikes and equipment.

With pressure for increases in outdoor recreation fees expect cyclists to be pulled into that discussion. We’ll be there representing your interests. And of course let us know what you think either in the comments below or you can email me at

About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

9 thoughts on “New Bike Taxes & Fees May Be Proposed

  1. If there were to be a state-wide “registration fee” for bikes, would that trump existing municipal registration fees, or be a second fee on top of the first?

  2. Nothing specific has been proposed at this point, but two years ago the proposal was for a state registration fee at the point of sale of a new bike. So, that would have been in addition to any local registration.

    • I believe X country skiers already need a trail pass for groomed trails. DNR is talking about somehow requiring a fee for hikers as well.

  3. On some state trails, I have been noticing a decline in maintenance during the 2010s. For example, there are bridges on the Great River State Trail that are still using the original wood decking that was installed in the late 1980s and that decking is falling apart. On my most recent visit to the Sugar River Trail in August 2016, the vegetation between the wheel tracks was 2 to 4 feet high. I have been seeing an increasing number of bad reviews recently on for many of the Wisconsin State Trails due to lack of maintenance.

    • I’ve noticed the same thing on the Sugar River Trail and on the unpaved portions of the Badger State. There’s clearly a need for more resources for trail maintenance.

  4. I don’t think fee trails should be increased. I don’t believe the money will be spent on improving the trails .
    The second reason, is that some people will not be able to afford the extra fee, and they made need the trails to bike to work, as they may be folks who cannot afford a car. This would include people with DUI’s, who have lost their license. We do not want them driving, and increaseing fees, may cause them to drive illegally, thus, endangering lives.
    The third reason, is that it is a quiet sport and means of transportation that does not require fossil fuel use, and helps the environment. This should be encouraged, and an increase does not promote that.
    Fourth, Wisconsin has a serious weight problem, which is well known throughout the country. Who would want to move here with that reputation?
    Fifth, the state needs to encourage healthy behavior, which keeps down the cost of health care for all of us. This is especially true for those who use our ER’s for primary care.
    Thank you for all you do. I wish I could financially continue to support this organization, however I am retired with very limited funds.

  5. I don’t mind paying to maintain trails, but as others have pointed out, they are NOT being maintained, and the small amount of revenue raised by increasing trail passes is unlikely to turn that around. As funding for state parks has disappeared and decreases in local assistance aids has squeezed local communities, maintenance of the trails has become much worse.

    And to be perfectly blunt, why is it OK to raise access fees to trails that people use to travel by bike, yet raising fees on rights-of-way used by motorized vehicles (AKA gas taxes, registration and licensing fees, and *gasp* TOLLS is out of the question?

    For some of us, trail passes are tolls to access the only safe way to work, family, shopping, or other activities. Many of these trails were built with federal transportation funding (the Transportation Enhancements or Transportation Alternatives programs.) No other facility built with federal funding can charge tolls. Why bike facilities?

    • I’m not sure that tolls are out of the question any more. It’s true that the governor has been against them, but Speaker Robin Vos has been more or less supportive. It would take federal action, though, to allow them on Interstates and the tourism industry here has traditionally been a strong opponent. We’ll see how this plays out.

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