In Colorado, all tax initiatives must be voted on by the people; neither local government nor the state legislature can raise tax rates without voter approval. In early 2019, Resilient Denver, a resident-led grassroots organization, successfully mounted a signature effort to put an energy tax on the 2019 ballot; the proposal would levy a tax based on the electricity and natural gas used by all Xcel Energy customers in the City and County of Denver and was projected to raise $30-$40M per year. Through a deliberative process with Mayor Michael Hancock and City Council, Resilient Denver tabled its ballot measure, providing time for the city to create a Climate Action Task Force and the Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency (CASR).
The Climate Action Task Force, appointed by Mayor Hancock, began deliberations in January 2020 and published its recommendations report in early July, just as CASR became an official Office (you can read more about the Task Force here). The Task Force explored a number of financial mechanisms to raise the funding needed to advance Denver’s climate action and sustainability goals and determined by consensus that a sales tax would be less regressive than a tax on energy consumption. In Denver, food, water, fuel, medical supplies, and feminine hygiene products are exempt from sales taxes, and 70% of sales taxes are paid by non-Denver residents (e.g., regional and out of state visitors), further reducing the burden on those least able to pay.
The Task Force presented its recommendations to the City Council in August 2020, and that same month Council President Jolon Clark sponsored Council Bill 20-0684 to put the sales tax on the November 2020 Ballot. The bill passed the City Council on a vote of 11-2 and became Ballot Measure 2A. (You can watch the debate here and find the final bill here.)
Employees of the City and County of Denver are prohibited from commenting for or against any ballot initiative or candidate during election season, so advocacy for the 2A ballot measure was led by a coalition including The Trust for Public Land, National Resources Defense Council, Conservation Colorado, Sierra Club, Healthier Colorado, Denver Streets Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, Councilman Jolon Clark, and Resilient Denver.