Self-Imposed Tax Club Sends H’burgers to California

Rebecca Martinez -- March 3rd, 2010

Guest blogger Rebecca reports on the group from Harrisonburg going to Davis, California.

photo by arlenThe Harrisonburg-based Voluntary Gas Tax club, which funds projects aimed at decreasing American’s dependence on fossil fuels, will send Mayor Kai Degner, three local activists, a city Planning Commissioner, a city employee and a documentary film maker to California on Wednesday to learn about bicycle infrastructure.

The grassroots group, made up of local residents who pay into a cache proportionate to how much gasoline they use, has been green projects since its founding in 2000.

“There are lots of other costs behind our use of fossil fuel and we should be trying to pay for some of those costs,” said VGT member Tom Benevento, citing pollution and the potential — and reality — of international conflict. “By taxing ourselves extra, it also makes us think twice about using it.”

photo by Velaia (ParisPeking)Here’s how it works: The 20 or so participants save their gas receipts over a six-month period. They multiply the number of gallons purchased by $.50 and pay the total amount into the VGT’s pool, which usually amounts to $1,500 per half-year. At their bi-annual get-together, they vote on which causes — domestic or international — should receive “grants.”

“It really empowers a group of people to make some changes that they can decide on,” Benevento said.

Over time, the VGT has funded numerous projects, including a bike-powered recycling trailer at Eastern Mennonite University and a local resident’s trip to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness to learn about the effects of the war on Iraqis. In 2008, VGT gave a $1,266 grant to Central Valley Habitat for Humanity to send two members to an alternative energy conference. Its donation to Habitat also helped them to build a house to Energy Star and EarthKraft (read: energy efficient) standards.

“We’ve been building green ever since,” said Central Valley Habitat Executive Director Marsha Smith, who added that all their houses now come with solar panels and solar water heaters. “It helps the houses continue to be affordable to our families and we’re really proud of that.”

VGT’s de-facto treasurer Earl Martin said about $1,200 of money collected will go to send the mayor, two city employees, members of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition, VGT and New Community Project and a documentary film maker to Davis, C.A., which has been designated a platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Other donations came from SVBC, NCP and a car-less former EMU professor who lives in Davis and offers up his frequent flier miles to cover several plane tickets.

photo by arlen

For four days, the group will commute by bicycles and talk with Davis city officials, bike activists and residents and consider Harrisonburg’s potential for increasing bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. The group will return on Monday.

They will be blogging about their trip here.

Rebecca Martinez is a freelance reporter and radio geek living in Harrisonburg. She has worked for both NPR and the DNR.

Photos by arlen and Velaia (ParisPeking)

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15 Responses to “Self-Imposed Tax Club Sends H’burgers to California”

  1. Bazrik says:

    Wow, what a great concept and execution this organization has. Brilliant, clever idea! Here’s to a great trip for Kai and the team – I hope you bring back lots of ideas this city can ACT upon.

    If Davis, C.A. is a “platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community”, Harrisonburg is a “tinfoil-level”. It’s inexcusable that we have no bike lanes and almost no bike-friendly initiatives in a town where people (including a prominent, loved HS teacher) have been killed riding their bikes.

  2. megan says:

    I think it would be appropriate for Kai and the other employees to ride their bicycles to California. :)

  3. Joe says:

    Cool story. WWJR? What would Jesus ride? Mountain, hybrid, touring, cruiser, uni? When the power of love transcends the love of power, there will be peace.

  4. Brad says:

    I wonder, can someone answer: What are the legal/ethical ramifications of a lobbying-type group giving a trip to city officials? I’m not implying anything is untoward; I just don’t know the answer and wonder. I will say $1,200 seems a low cost for six people to travel to California for four days. So does the cost include all expenses, and if not, who picks up the rest? Will any city funds be used for the city employees?

  5. I agree with Megan. The carbon footprint left by these people flying to California will cause at least a week’s worth of global warming both in and around Harrisonburg.

  6. Brad: I have it on very good source that Kai Degner can live on $0.25/day. He’s the MacGyver of frugality. He is a rock-star amongst the Old Order Mennonite!

  7. David Miller says:

    Isn’t making fun of people who are trying to make a difference so much more fun than joining their efforts.

  8. Rebecca Martinez says:

    No city funds were used to pay for this trip, which has approval by Hburg City Council. All funding came from the VGT as well as donations from the Shenandoah Valley Bike Coalition and New Community project, plus frequent flier miles donated by bike activist Robb Davis. Davis said he figured the plane was going back and forth between DC and California anyway, so they were doing less harm than good bringing folks there.

  9. Jeff says:

    I was in Davis a year ago. Their bike infrastructure and support is outstanding. Very cool – should be a great trip.

  10. kai says:

    We’re all on the plane! Talk to you on the blog.

  11. mtnsailor says:

    Another solid example of positive, wholestic problem study &solving.
    If anyone interested in the ~95% final HBurg Bike/ Walk plan update by Comm. (going to Planning Commission in May, then Council)= http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/bikeped
    There will be some public presentations by this Delegation when back; my wife & I look forward + plan to donate$ if the “hat” is passed.

  12. Thanh says:

    Bazirk – Recognizing that Harrisonburg has a lot more to do to be like Davis in bicycle infrastructure, we should also recognize all of the things the City of Harrisonburg and its community has done, is doing, and is expanding on. An application to the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community Award (the same award that Davis got Platinum for) was submitted on behalf of the Harrisonburg community in February. I encourage you to review the full application at http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/bikeped. If you’re interested in getting involved with any of the initiatives or to help fill in some of the gaps we still have, I’d be happy to help you get in touch with the people who could use your energy to help.

    Anyone who is interested in joining the City’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee email list (the citizen group meets quarterly with city staff), please contact me at thanhd@harrisonburgva.gov.

    Thanks!

  13. Bazrik says:

    Hey, great start! This was news to me, and available right on the City site. Great initiative, and let’s hope much of this is accomplished soon. It would be great to see bike lanes added to new roads AND to existing (where applicable re: speed limit, etc.).

    Thanks for opening my eyes. -Baz

  14. Amy Morris says:

    We have installed a solar water heater at home and it is also as good as conventional water heaters.~.’

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