From The Colorado Sun (Evan Oschner):
Denver voters this year could give the city a unique tool for fighting climate change that is unlike strategies pursued by other U.S. cities. Across the nation, local authorities are taking on responsibility for fighting the warming planet amid gridlock at the federal level.
Denver’s idea is different because ballot measure 2A would use the proceeds from a dedicated sales tax increase to raise roughly $40 million a year to invest in renewable energy, clean transportation, energy efficiency and more.
If voters approve the tax on the Nov. 3 ballot, it could serve as a model for policy options in other cities. “We truly are pioneering this,” said Councilman Jolon Clark, who sponsored the measure to get the issue on the ballot. Clark said two other municipalities have reached out to Denver to talk about implementing a similar proposal themselves.
As fires torch the West and hurricanes slam the East, the threat of a changing climate has become more pressing, and cities are more urgently taking action. The situation is so dire that local governments are more likely to try to tackle this intractable problem, said Cooper Martin, an expert in sustainability policy at the National League of Cities…
Denver’s idea is inspired by action in some other cities, Clark said, pointing to Boulder. And action by cities, regardless of the strategy, is generally driven by the lack of federal action to address the climate crisis. President Barack Obama joined the Paris climate accords and put in place emissions cutting measures through executive action, but President Donald Trump has waged a yearslong campaign to repeal many of his predecessor’s environmental policies.
The inaction at one level has led to action at another. “Local effort is really what we’ve had for the last 10 years, and I think that it’s been valuable,” said Mark Smith, an economics professor who studies environmental policy at Colorado College.
For Denver, that means raising the sales tax to 8.56% from 8.31% to support green projects in the city. If approved, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The money raised would be divided among six categories covering a range of environmental issues.
The categories prioritize environmental justice and include training programs to empower people to work in clean energy as well as investment in renewable energy.
Other funds will be dedicated to making the city’s infrastructure cleaner by reducing reliance on cars and improving mass transit. According to the city, transportation is responsible for 30% of the city’s emissions. Another 50% of the city’s emissions are attributed to new and existing buildings, and the tax funds would be used to upgrade the energy efficiency of office and residential spaces.
Proponents say many of the elements of the bill are intended to offset a reality of the proposal: It is fundamentally a regressive tax. That’s because sales taxes are regressive, meaning they require lower income individuals to pay a higher proportion of taxes.
The bill that put the measure on the ballot says city officials must try to invest half of the funds it raises directly into the community and prioritize efforts to steer funds toward under-resourced communities.
Clark says these stipulations are designed to ensure lower income and marginalized communities receive more benefits from the tax than they pay into it.