The Denver City Council will consider a bill to increase the sales and use tax by 0.25% and invest the revenue into strategies to “reduce carbon pollution and adapt to climate change.”
If approved by the full Council in early August, the increase — which is estimated to generate about $36 million in its first year, accounting for the coronavirus pandemic — the sales tax increase would be referred to the November 2020 ballot and left up to Denver voters.
The initiative comes from the city’s 26-member Climate Action Task Force made up of representatives from the Sierra Club, Denver Metro Association of Realtors, Xcel Energy, the International Indigenous Youth Council, Denver Streets Partnership and many others.
The group is tasked with identifying ways to achieve a 40% decrease in Denver’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, a 60% drop by 2030 and a 100% decrease by 2040. By implementing “bold policies,” the goal is to position Denver as "a model for the nation" that centers its environmental policy "design, programs, and investments in front-line communities and inspire(s) people in our city to embrace sustainability as a value.”
When presenting the proposal to the Council's Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee on Wednesday, task force member Dominique Gomez highlighted the parallels between environmental injustice and the coronavirus pandemic.
“If there is any lesson from six months of COVID-19, it is that prevention and early investment is way better than trying to address the fallout of failing to act,” she said.
“We also know that our Black, Latino, Native American and low-wealth communities will be disproportionately impacted by climate change and already are today by heat, by air pollution,” and even the coronavirus, she said. “Failing to act — and act decisively — will, more than anything, fail those communities.”
The Climate Action Task Force recently released its policy recommendations to address climate change equitably in six key areas: buildings, transportation, electricity generation, industrial energy use, consumption emissions and resiliency/climate adaptation.
Although the proposal was advanced in a 7-0 vote by the committee, some council members raised concerns that upping the sales tax could hurt low-income communities. Others worried that the effort may come across as "tone deaf" to voters, who find themselves in the midst of a crushing financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The task force said the sales tax could be tinkered with to exempt certain essential items that financially burdened families rely on and that revenue from the sales tax would be prioritized for disadvantaged communities.
It will need up to $3.4 billion to realize those plans, and the sales tax increase would be but a step of possibly many more to come, including implementing a vehicle efficiency fee, raising parking meters and parking permit fees.
The task force says the up-front investment cost of a few billion is chump change compared with the roughly $20 billion they estimate could be incurred from inaction.
The bill is expected to have its first reading before the full Council July 27 and to be up for a final vote Aug. 3.