Tax hikes a key feature of Denver’s fall ballot measures
Author: Adam McCoy - September 18, 2018 - Updated: October 8, 2018
When Denverites cast ballots in the November election, they’ll help decide more than just a contentious governor’s race. Mingled in with statewide races and ballot questions will appear a handful of city initiatives.
And many of those initiatives ask for tax hikes, so listen up.
The initiatives address such matters as flood control, parks, college affordability, mental health, campaign finance — and even the method of placing measures on future ballots.
Initiatives land on the ballot after supporters have collected enough petition signatures to qualify, or after being approved by the Denver City Council.
This year, it took 4,726 valid Denver voter signatures — 5 percent of the votes cast in the last mayoral election — for an initiative to reach the ballot via petition.
Even if the initiatives receive voter approval, the Denver City Council has the authority to alter them after six months with a super-majority vote.
For reference, the current sales tax rate in Denver is 7.65 percent — when combining Denver’s 4.75 percent sales tax rate and the state’s 2.9 percent sales tax rate.
According to the Denver Elections Division, the following city initiatives will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot:
Flood control in Denver
The Urban Drainage and Flood Control District will ask voters to restore its taxing authority, which has been reduced by 44 percent since 1992 under provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights or TABOR, The Denver Post reports.
If approved, the mill levy would initially increase from 56 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to 83 cents ($7.88 on a $400,000 home). The increase would raise an additional $14.9 million for flood control projects next year. The district would eventually raise the mill levy rate to $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.
A parks-dedicated sales tax
To help fund purchase of new parks and green space and finance improvements to existing parks, voters will consider a parks dedicated sales-and-use tax increase of 0.25 percentage points — or about 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase.
The new tax would raise an estimated $41.5 million annually. The initiative was approved for the ballot by the Denver City Council and spearheaded by Council President Jolon Clark.
In an interview with Westword, Clark argued that Denver County is the only metro county that didn’t have a tax for parks.
‘Caring 4 Denver’
Supporters of this ballot initiative will ask Denver voters if sales-and-use taxes should be increased by 0.25 percentage points — which translates to an additional quarter on a $100 purchase — to fund mental health and substance-abuse treatment.
The $45 million raised annually would go toward funding for mental health and opioid substance abuse facilities, services and treatment and suicide prevention programs. It would also help fund training for first responders.
Denver college affordability fund
To help fund state scholarships, Denverites will be asked if sales-and-use taxes should be increased by 0.08 percent points — which translates to about an additional penny on a $10 purchase. The sales tax hike would take effect Jan. 1 and expire after 12 years.
The $13.9 million raised annually would help fund college scholarships and support services including academic counseling, tutoring and financial aid. Only residents who have lived in Denver for three years and are 25 years old or younger would be eligible.
Nonprofits would distribute the scholarships to be used at accredited public or not-for-profit post-secondary schools.
Healthy food for Denver
Denver voters will be asked if sales-and-use taxes should be increased by 0.08 percentage points — about an additional penny on a $10 purchase — to help educate the city’s youth on food.
The tax would generate $11.2 million annually to provide healthy food and food education to Denver children, primarily of a low-income background or considered at-risk. The tax hike would take effect on Jan. 1 and expire after 10 years.
A Denver food commission, which would be created if the initiative is approved, would manage the revenues.
Campaign finance reform
A Denver City Council-approved initiative that would enact sweeping campaign finance reform for municipal elections will appear on the ballot this November. The measure would see the creation of a public fund, place new limits on donations and ban corporate contributions.
If approved, the measure would create the Fair Elections Fund, which would match campaign donations with public money — up to $50 per donor, at a 9-to-1 ratio. That equates to $450 per donor. The city would put nearly $3 per resident into the fund annually; the system would not exceed $8 million. Furthermore, the fund would serve as a voluntary public campaign finance system.
The measure would also place new limits on contributions per donor including $1,000 per donor to mayoral candidates; $700 to city auditor, at-large council member, clerk and recorder or judge candidates; and $400 for candidates for district council member.
Ballot initiative signatures
Denver will ask voters if it the petition signatures threshold to get an initiative on the ballot should change from 5 percent of the total number of votes in the last mayoral election to 2 percent of registered voters, which generally would be a much higher number, according to the city.
As Denverite explained, under the current process, the threshold hovers from 4,000 to 6,000 signatures, but it could become more difficult to get an initiative approved as the city’s population has boomed.
This ballot initiative would make the position of director of elections, currently an appointed position, a regular city employee.
Police department hires
This initiative would alter experience requirements and some pay grade details when joining the Denver Police Department.
Look for these in spring 2019
A number of other initiatives weren’t approved for Nov. 6, but could land on the May 2019 ballot, when the mayor’s race and a number of city council seats will be decided.
Those include a minimum wage hike for Denver International Airport employees, initially to $13, eventually increasing to $15 by 2021; a measure, counter to the city’s homeless camping ban, which declares it a right to “rest and shelter oneself from the elements in a non-obstructive manner in outdoor public spaces;” and a measure which would require voter approval before Denver could use any public money in connection with future Olympic Games.