Ann Arbor mayor proposes 20-year climate change tax

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor's mayor is seeking to battle climate change by proposing an ambitious 20-year tax increase plan to help the city transition to carbon neutrality and renewable energy.

Mayor Christopher Taylor presented the Community Climate Action Millage plan to city council members on Tuesday evening, indicating the 1-mill property tax increase plan would raise between $130 to $150 million over the life of the millage. An estimated $6.5 million would be raised in the first year.

If approved by the city council, the millage would be placed on the Ann Arbor ballot in November. The proposal seeks to follow President Joe Biden's lead on tackling climate change issues that have caused flooding, increased tornadoes, hurricanes and erratic weather patterns, Taylor said Wednesday.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor is a seeking a 1-mill property tax increase over 20 years to finance a battle against climate change.

"Achieving carbon neutrality is a moral imperative, and we need to do everything that we can and do our part," he said. "We also need to provide new programs and services to everyday residents that respond to the climate change that is already here and the climate change that's going to be accelerating if we don't take meaningful action as a society."

Ann Arbor would not be the first American city to impose a climate change tax.

Boulder, Colorado imposes a voter-approved "Climate Action Plan" tax on its residents and businesses based on the amount of electricity they consume. The plan seeks to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and an 80% emissions reduction by 2050.

The tax — first adopted in 2006 and extended in 2015 through March 31, 2023 — generates about $1.8 million a year, resulting in an average annual cost of $21 for residents, $94 for commercial businesses and $9,600 for industrial businesses, according to the Boulder government.

The proposed Ann Arbor millage would help bolster the city's A2Zero plan through resident services and municipal operations to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. In 2019, city officials said Ann Arbor was in a climate emergency and the next year voted to approve the A2Zero measure.

Among the plan's goals is to power the city's electrical grid with 100% renewable energy, slash vehicle miles driven by at least 50%, switch appliances and vehicles to electric power and "significantly improve" the energy efficiency in houses, schools, businesses, houses of worship and government facilities.

The plan, the mayor said, also would help low income residents take advantage of renewable energy, improve composting and recycling efforts, put more solar energy into homes and neighborhoods, and aid weatherization.

While a tax millage may be controversial in other places, Taylor said he believes the city will support the initiative because residents have seen climate change in terms of temperature fluctuation and increased rainfall.

"Ann Arborites receive excellent services for their tax dollars and if you offer value, people support governmental initiatives," the mayor said. "No serious scientist disputes the fact of climate change. Climate change is happening in Ann Arbor."

The plan, council members say, is going to need the funding to tackle climate change in a real way.

"Climate change is the critical issue of our time. It is an existential issue that we are facing as a human race," said Ann Arbor council member Jen Eyer, who supports the plan. "It's going to take a big investment in order to implement it. In order to do that, we need to have the funding to do it."

Eyer said a "vast majority of Ann Arborites" will agree that climate change issues are "urgent, and our city budget doesn't have fat in it."

She criticized Republican lawmakers in Lansing who have cut revenue sharing for cities over the years as the reason that a city like Ann Arbor needs to take action with a millage.

Ann Arbor voters last year approved a 1-mill tax for an affordable housing initiative in a bid to create new housing units. A 1-mill tax costs $100 a year for the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000.

At least one initiative in liberal Ann Arbor and its home county of Washtenaw have  prompted a backlash from conservative Republican state lawmakers.

In 2016, Washtenaw County commissioners approved a carryout bag ordinance that would charge 10 cents for every plastic and paper bag used at grocery stores, restaurants and retail outlets. The county officials said they wanted to give consumers and businesses an incentive to eliminate what they call unnecessary waste.

Before the fee could go into effect, the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a state law signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder barring local governments from adopting such fees or bans of plastic bags and other packaging containers.

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