Denver voters will have up to seven chances to change how the city works during this November’s elections. They’re set to vote on questions about college scholarships and elections reform, and a few more are possible, too.
Keep reading to see what’s on deck for this year, and refer to our previous coverage for a list of statewide ballot initiatives. There are quite a few potential tax increases, plus some other interesting changes.
A quick primer on ballot initiatives:
Colorado’s elections ballots can come with long lists of scary-looking questions. If enough voters agree with the initiatives, they can change state and city laws.
These questions can land on the Denver ballot in two ways: Groups can collect thousands of signatures from voters, or the Denver City Council can decide to do it themselves.
This is quite different from the usual way that laws get made, and it can result in radical new ideas, such as the city’s new green roofs requirement, or the state’s legalization of marijuana.
The Denver City Council does have some power to revise the laws, even after they’re approved by voters. They’re doing that now with the green roofs requirement. They also have repealed some voter-approved laws altogether.
And, since these measures deal with taxes, here’s what to know:
- Denver’s city sales tax is currently 3.65 percent. Combined with other taxes, you currently pay 7.65 percent tax on most goods and services here.
- The city’s sales tax on retail marijuana is 7.15 percent. Combined with other taxes, you currently pay 23.25 percent on weed here.
These proposals are set for the ballot.
Increase sales taxes to provide Colorado scholarships.
The Denver College Affordability Fund measure is officially approved for the ballot. It would raise at least $13.9 million by charging an extra 0.08 percent in sales tax, or about 8 cents on a $100 purchase. That should work out to $14 million-plus yearly.
The money would be used to create post-secondary scholarships for Denver residents. It would be available for people younger than 25 who have lived in Denver for at least three years. The scholarships can be used at “regionally accredited nonprofit or public” schools in Colorado, and only for students in good standing. The money would be doled out by nonprofits based on financial need. “Thousands of students across Denver will be served,” wrote campaign manager Roger Sherman in an email to Denverite.
Increase sales taxes to pay for parks.
A measure backed by Council President Jolon Clark would add 0.25 percent to the cost of many goods and services, or about 25 cents on a $100 purchase. It would generate $46 million for parks construction and maintenance in 2019.
Make millions available for public financing of campaigns and create new limits on donations to politicians.
The Democracy for the People Initiative has made the ballot. It’s likely to be updated by a council-approved measure. It would dramatically lower the limits on how much money a person can give to local candidates. It also would make public funding available for campaigns that agree to additional rules and limits.
Basically, candidates could get $9 from the city for every dollar they raise for Denver residents, up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. (See more here.)
Raise the sales tax to fund housing and health services.
Caring 4 Denver submitted more than 10,000 signatures on Aug. 2, and it was approved for the ballot on Aug. 21. The measure would charge you an extra 0.25 percent on purchases, or about 25 cents on $100. It would initially generate $45 million per year.
The campaign is spearheaded by Rep. Leslie Herod with support from Mental Health center of Denver. The money would be spent on suicide prevention; mental health services, opioid and substance abuse services; and affordable housing with services to reduce homelessness, incarceration and hospitalization.
Change the rules about changing the rules.
The Denver City Council has approved a ballot initiative that would change the rules for collecting signatures for these types of ballot initiatives. It would make it harder in some years, but easier in others, to place a question on the ballot.
A sales tax to promote healthy eating.
The Healthy Food for Denver’s Kids initiative would charge an extra 0.08 percent in sales and use tax on purchases — again, that’s 8 cents per $100. The money would go toward groups “whose primary purpose is to provide healthy meals and healthy snacks” for people under 18.
A chief organizer is Blake Angelo, the city’s former manager of food system development.
Waiting for approval:
A measure to change the structure of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
The Denver City Council will decide whether to put this measure on the ballot. If approved by voters, it would allow the position of director of elections to change from an “appointed” position to a regular city employee. It also would allow the clerk to appoint two additional positions of his or her choice.
Not just yet:
The following measures haven’t yet submitted their signatures. That means they won’t be able to get on the November ballot, although they could instead try for May 2019.
The Denver Airport Minimum Wage Initiative had its title approved on Aug. 15. It would set the airport wage at $15 per hour by 2021 and tie it to inflation.
The Denver Internet Initiative had its title approved on July 31. It would declare that Denver has a right to provide high-speed internet and television services.
The Denver Right to Survive Initiative had its title approved on April 4. It would allow people to rest, eat and use shelter in a “non-obstructive” manner in public spaces. That’s in opposition to the city’s 2012 camping ban, which makes it illegal to use tents, cardboard and other shelter in public spaces.
A proposal to raise marijuana sales taxes had its title approved on May 16. The money would fund incentives for healthy food providers to locate in food deserts. It would add 1.5 percent to the cost of each marijuana purchase, or about $5.6 million in 2019. Organizer Blake Angelo said he’s aiming to get it on the ballot next May. (Meanwhile, he’s not moving forward with two other proposals to raise various taxes for food initiatives.)
You’re insatiable. You can find the documents for each initiative on the Denver Elections website. The language of each initiative is available under the “approved title language” column of the spreadsheet.
Updated to show that Caring 4 Denver made the ballot on Aug. 21.