Exhaust smoke and air pollution greenhouse gas

Denver residents will have a chance to weigh in on a proposed ballot measure that would increase sales taxes in the name of combating climate change.

The bill, if approved by the Denver City Council tonight, will be referred to the Nov. 3 ballot, giving voters the choice to raise sales and use tax by 0.25% and invest the revenue into strategies to reduce greenhouses gases and air pollution and “adapt to climate change.” The increase is estimated to take in about $36 million in its first year, accounting for the coronavirus pandemic.

A 30-minute courtesy public hearing will be held Monday evening before the council’s vote. Residents can sign up online, beginning at 4:30 p.m., to speak during the hearing. Each speaker will have three minutes to speak. If needed, President Stacie Gilmore can decide to extend the hearing to an hour, said Denver City Council spokesperson Stacy Simonet.

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.”  

Some council members have 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 must be “as equitable as possible,” including exemptions for essential items that poor families rely on, as well as ensuring its revenue has a “strong focus” on improving the lives of low-income communities of color.

The environmental committee said 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.

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