On November 3, 2020, the people of the City and County of Denver voted in favor of Ballot Initiative 2A, raising the local sales and use tax by 0.25% to create the Climate Protection Fund (CPF). The CPF, which is expected to raise up to $40M per year, is dedicated to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, supporting climate adaptation, and creating new jobs to improve the lives of Denverites, with efforts focused on the communities most harmed by climate change: low-income households, communities of color and Indigenous people, babies, children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities, and people with chronic health conditions.
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.
The Climate Protection Fund (CPF) cannot begin distributing dollars to projects until the technical mechanism of the fund is set up and begins collecting tax revenue. Additionally, a five-year plan for how the dollars will be spent must be developed within one year of the election.
Technical Funding Mechanism: The City and County of Denver’s Department of Finance will set up the CPF and enable the collection of tax dollars into it. This process is expected to be complete by mid-summer 2021.
Spending Plan: The bill creating the CPF tasked CASR with developing a five-year plan for the fund within one year of approval by the voters. This plan is to be presented to the Sustainability Advisory Council (SAC) and City Council. The SAC was established over a decade ago and its members are appointed by the Mayor. CASR is currently re-structuring the SAC to enable greater participation and to strengthen the connection between its recommendations and the City’s policies and programs. Applications to serve on the SAC’s committees, where the work to review and recommend policies and programs is done, will be available in late December-early January 2021. The goal is to seat the new SAC by March 2021 and collaborate on developing the CPF’s five-year plan.
The bill creating the CPF does not prohibit expenditures prior to the adoption of the five-year plan, and CASR is collaborating with stakeholders to identify shovel-ready, high-impact projects that can be funded as soon as expenditures are enabled. CASR, and other city agencies, have existing plans which identify high-impact projects such as the 80x50 Climate Action Plan, the 100% Renewable Electricity Action Plan, and the Electric Vehicle Action Plan.
The Climate Protection Fund was created by City Council Bill 20-6084, and lists six categories of allowable uses, as follows:
Job creation through local workforce training and new careers for under-resourced individuals in clean energy technology and management of natural resources.
Increased investments in solar power, battery storage, and other renewable energy technology.
Neighborhood-based environmental and climate justice programs.
Adaptation and resiliency programs that help vulnerable communities prepare for a changing climate.
Programs and services that provide affordable, clean, safe and reliable transportation choices, like walking, biking, transit, electric vehicles, and neighborhood-scale transit.
Upgrade the energy efficiency of homes, offices and industry to reduce their carbon footprint, utility bills, and indoor air pollution.
The bill allows the fund to support “one-time opportunities and catalytic projects” but also that the fund “should, over the long term, endeavor to invest fifty percent (50%) of the dedicated funds directly in the community with a strong lens toward equity, race, and social justice.”
This site will be updated as funds are disbursed listing each project or program that is funded under these categories.
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