Published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan on September 17th, 2023
The Fort Collins City Council recently decided to ask voters to approve a 0.5% sales and use tax increase this November to partially address an anticipated annual budget shortfall of $32 million to $36 million in future years.
Fifty percent of the revenue raised by this tax increase would be used to maintain and build new parks and recreation facilities, 25% would be used pay for programs advancing the city’s climate goals, and 25% would be used to support the city’s public transit system.
While the new revenue that would be raised by the tax increase is intended to cover the entire funding gap for parks and recreation, it would cover only one-half of the funding gap for climate programs and just one-third of the funding gap for public transit. In 2019, Fort Collins City Council passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency. Given the split in new tax revenue proposed by this council, one has to ask what’s happened to the climate emergency since then.
The proposed revenue split also begs the question of where the additional money needed for climate and transit programs should come from. The Fort Collins Sustainability Group (FCSG) and Community for Sustainable Energy (CforSE) have long advocated for the principle of requiring the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters to pay their fair share of the damage they have caused to Earth’s climate.
One way of doing this would be to impose a tax or fee on the GHG pollution of organizations defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “large emitters,” i.e. those that release more than 25,000 metric tons of equivalent carbon dioxide per year. There are just three such organizations within Fort Collins City limits: Broadcom, Anheuser Busch, and Colorado State University. Another way to make the largest polluters pay for the climate damage they cause would be to impose a tax or fee on the largest natural gas users in Fort Collins.
Taxes, which need to be approved by the voters, could be used to support the city’s climate and transit programs without restriction. Fees, which can be approved by city council, would need to benefit the organizations paying the fee. For example, revenue collected from a natural gas fee could be used to subsidize the costs of converting from natural gas heating to electric heating incurred by those corporations paying the fee. This would lead to a significant reduction in GHG pollution.
The city’s climate plan calls for local solar and energy storage to help our community reach its climate goals. In addition to reducing GHG pollution, local solar brings local economic benefits and is critical to establishing a Distributed Energy System (DES). A DES (also known as a virtual power plant) networks local energy resources such as solar and batteries, and is recognized as the best way to save consumers money and reach the city’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030. At this time the city’s climate team is not prioritizing local solar at scale or pursuing a DES in a meaningful way. This needs to change.
The FCSG and CforSE offer their qualified support for a sales tax increase to benefit the city’s parks and recreation, climate, and transit programs. We would feel more comfortable if the city were to make a commitment to maximize local solar and battery storage, rather than relying primarily on utility-scale solar. And we will continue to advocate for new, equitable revenue sources to close the funding gap for climate and public transit programs that shift responsibility away from consumers and toward those corporations that generate the most GHG pollution.
Kevin Cross is the convener of the Fort Collins Sustainability Group, which has been advocating for strong local climate policies since 2005. Fred Kirsch is the Director of Community for Sustainable Energy, which has been raising public awareness and organizing citizen support for progressive energy policies since 2006.