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Climate Politics Almanac: Climate on the ballot

California's Prop 30, New York's Prop 1, Boulder's Climate Tax, and more

Each election year year, voters weigh in directly on hundreds of direct democracy issues, and there are many important statewide ballot initiatives in 2022. This post looks at climate-related ballot initiatives at the state and local level.

California

Prop 30, Tax on Income Above $2 Million for Zero-Emissions Vehicles and Wildfire Prevention Initiative

Proposition 30 would raise income taxes by 1.75% on Californians who make more than $2 million annually, spending 80% of the estimated $3.5 billion in yearly revenue on electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and rebates for EV purchases, and the remaining 20% on wildfire fighter hiring and training. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) would be directed to prioritize low-income Californians in allocating EV rebates.

California governor Gavin Newsom has decried Prop 30 as a “Trojan horse” initiative and cut an ad opposing it. Newsom’s argument points to Lyft’s substantial funding for the measure, motivated by its desire to have the wealthy subsidize its compliance with a new CARB rule requiring 90% of ride mileage to come from EVs by 2030. It’s a reasonable complaint, but curious coming from someone who was silent two years ago when Lyft spent millions to overturn a California labor law to stop misclassifying drivers.

With support from the California Democratic Party, many labor organizations, billionaire Tom Steyer, legislators like state senator Henry Stern and Rep. Ro Khanna, and environmental organizations, polls show Prop 30 in a pretty strong position to pass (albeit with gradually declining support). We will see if Prop 30’s support holds up against Newsom, the California Chamber of Commerce and Teachers Association, and scolding editorials from the San Jose Mercury News and the LA Times.

Florida

Amendment 1, Disregard Flood Resistance Improvements in Property Value Assessments Measure

If approved by 60% of voters, Amendment 1 would exempt expenditures on home flood resilience improvements from property tax value assessments. The measure is meant to encourage flood mitigation investments by Florida homeowners. One third of the 5 million policyholders in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) live in Florida, and 1.7 million Floridians live in an area that is subject to 100-year flood risk— a figure that is projected to grow considerably in the years ahead.

A long-term reauthorization of the NFIP is needed to modernize flood mapping, provide resources for flood mitigation, and expedite the buyout process for many Florida homeowners who really should relocate. But Congress has perpetually “kicked the can” down the road on NFIP reform. Although the Build Back Better Act included significant reforms, that died in the Senate. With the U.S. Congress failing to provide NFIP relief, a near-unanimous vote of the Florida legislature placed Amendment 1 on the ballot.

Lest we give Florida lawmakers too much credit, an emergency session in May utterly failed to address the climate-driven property insurance “meltdown” taking place there. Available reforms to make insurance more affordable, and shore up Florida’s state-funded reinsurance company by taxing corporations rather than individuals, were rejected.

Georgia

Amendment 2: Temporary Property Tax Change for Disaster Areas Measure

Similar to Amendment 1 in Florida, Georgia’s Amendment 2 would allow temporary property tax relief for any homes that are damaged by climate disasters, if it receives approval from 2/3 of the voters. Georgia has among the most regressive and meager tax systems in the country.

New York

Proposal 1, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act

If approved, Proposal 1 would authorize $4.2 billion in general obligation bonds for projects dealing with climate change resilience, including wetlands restoration to mitigate sea level rise, heat pumps, electric buses, and other home energy upgrades. 35% of the bond revenue is required to be dedicated to disadvantaged communities. If passed, Prop 1 will be the first environmental bond act that New York voters have seen in 26 years. It was originally slated to be on the 2020 ballot, after former governor Andrew Cuomo pointed to reports citing mounting state infrastructure costs from climate change. After the pandemic caused the bond measure’s postponement, governor Kathy Hochul revived the effort last year, and called for an additional billion dollar in funding, which some legislators felt was still inadequate. The New York Public Interest Group suggested that the bond should follow the “polluter pay” model of past NY environmental bond measures and repeal fossil fuel subsidies, but those calls were not heeded.

Local Measures

Boulder, Colorado

County Issue 1A, 1B, and 1C: Wildfire Mitigation, Emergency Services, and Transportation Sales Taxes

The shocking Marshall Fire, powered by fossil-fueled climate change, ripped through suburban Boulder in December 2021. County Issues 1A, 1B, and 1C would raise county-wide 0.1% sales tax to raise $11 million each for wildfire mitigation, rural fire, mountain rescue, and ambulance services, and rural rapid transit, trails, and bicycle lanes respectively. The Yes On 1C coalition includes the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Action.

Boulder Daily Camera opinion editor Gary Garrison writes: “With the climate ever-changing and Boulder ever-growing, these taxes — wildfire mitigation, emergency services and continued transportation funding — are necessary.”

City Ballot Issues 2A and 2B, Climate Tax

Boulder City has a two-part ballot measure—Ballot Issue 2A and 2B—to expand its climate tax on fossil-fuel energy use to $6.5 million from $3.9 million and increase the share paid by businesses.

Jonathan Koehn, the director of Boulder’s Climate Initiatives Department, the director of Boulder’s Climate Initiatives Department explained the planned change:

“When the original carbon tax was created in 2006, since that time, businesses have paid roughly one-third of the annual tax collections and they’re responsible for emitting roughly two-thirds of our community’s emissions. We’re really trying to true up that proportional impact in cost to make sure that the dollars collected are really going to those that are attributed to … emitting those emissions.”

El Paso, Texas

Proposition C, Renewable Energy and Efficiency Improvements Bond Measure

In order to fund its Climate Action Plan, El Paso’s Proposition C proposes a $5.2 million bond measure for renewable energy and resource use efficiency improvements and planning, the smallest of three bond measures on the El Paso ballot. The others are a $246.8 million bond measure for street improvements and $20.8 million bond measure for parks and recreation.

California Local

Long Beach, California is proposing to merge its Gas and Oil Department with its Water Department into an Energy Resources Department; the new name will “better reflect the current global, State and local views regarding energy resources and climate change mitigation.”

Mono County Measure H and Siskiyou County Measure R will raise additional funds for the Antelope Valley Fire Protection District along the Nevada border and the Mount Shasta Fire Protection District, respectively. Mount Shasta, on the Oregon border, experienced a fast-growing wildfire last month.

Cloverdale, the last jurisdiction in Sonoma County that allows the sale of fireworks, has Measure K on the ballot to prohibit the practice, as global warming increases wildfire risks. Mayor Todd Lands blames recent Cloverdale fires on homeless people and is campaigning to protect fireworks sales.

The city of Watsonville, on Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz County, is voting on Measure Q to renew its Urban Limit Line, which protects the Pajaro Valley farmland and encourages urban infill. The smart growth rules were established in 2002 and renewed in 2013. The counter measure, Measure S, would allow for more development outside the current limits, and the competing camps are accusing each other of racism.

Berkeley’s Measure L is a $650 million bond measure that proponents say will help pay for climate projects, but it’s a non-earmarked general funding bond.

Boulder Creek’s Measure T for a $36 per parcel tax to fund parks and recreation includes “alternative green energy to power our public spaces.”

Honolulu, Hawaii

Charter Question 2 would require the city’s planning commission to “have at least one member with expertise or experience in (a) Native Hawaiian tradition, native Hawaiian law, and traditional Hawaiian land usage; (b) land use planning, policies, and principles; (c) land development and construction; and (d) climate change and sea level rise causes, effects, and solutions or environmental protection and preservation.”

Charter Question 3 proposes expanding the use of funds in the city’s Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund to allow expenditures for operation, maintenance, improvement, and management of lands acquired by the Fund.

Some Other Local Ballot Measures

Wayne County, Michigan, the home county of Detroit, is voting on the continuation of funding for its public transit system (SMART) through a 0.994 millage.

Carson City, Nevada’s Question 1 asks whether to continue the city’s five cents per gallon tax on diesel fuel for road maintenance.

Albuquerque, New Mexico has a bond measure for $25 million for the flood control system. Last year the region saw deadly flash floods, and this year it whipsawed from extreme drought to heavy rains.

King County, Washington Proposition 1 extends the Conservation Futures levy, a property tax that finances greenways, farmland, and wildlands.

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