Issues Of The Environment: Ann Arbor To Consider Climate Tax To Reach A2Zero Goals

Aug 11, 2021

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor
Credit City of Ann Arbor / a2gov.org

The City of Ann Arbor has set an ambitious goal of achieving communtiy-wide carbon neutrality by 2030. The steps are set forth in the city's A2Zero plan. It is likely, however, that, to meet the target, taxpayers will have to help. Mayor Christopher Taylor recently presented a one-mill, 20-year, property tax plan to make it possible. He joined WEMU's David Fair to discuss the proposal and more. 


Overview

  • Mayor Christopher Taylor presented the Community Climate Action Millage plan to city council members in July of this year, indicating the 1-mill property tax increase plan would raise between $130 to $150 million over the life of the 20-year levy. An estimated $6.5 million would be raised in the first year.
  • The proposed 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. 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.

A2 Zero Climate Plan

On November 4, 2019, the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed a resolution which formally declared a “climate emergency,” and set 2030 as an “ambitious and achievable” carbon neutrality target. To follow up, City staff developed a carbon neutrality plan with the assistance of dozens of technical advisors, the input from hundreds of community partners and the support of expert consultants. 

The plan calls for:

  • powering our electrical grid with 100% clean and renewable energy;
  • reducing the miles we travel in our vehicles by at least 50%;
  • switching our appliances and vehicles from gasoline, diesel, propane, and natural gas to electric;
  • significantly improving the energy efficiency in our homes, businesses, schools, places of worship, and recreational sites;
  • significantly changing the way we use, reuse, and dispose of materials; 
  • enhancing the resilience of our people and place.

(Source of above: *directly quoted* https://www.a2cp.org/a2-zero-carbon-neutrality-plan)

Transcription

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we once again bring you a conversation on the climate crisis and local efforts to deal with it. I'm David Fair, and, at some point in the not so distant future, voters in Ann Arbor are likely to be asked to invest in the city's efforts to do its part. Mayor Christopher Taylor has put before city council but Community Climate Action Millage Plan for consideration. It is still being worked on. If ultimately approved, it would ask city residents to approve a one mill increase in property taxes that would be levied for a period of 20 years. That would raise somewhere between 130 and 150 million dollars in total. Mayor Taylor, thanks for taking the time today.

Christopher Taylor: It's my pleasure to be here.

David Fair: Why, in your estimation, is this the right time to put forth a climate tax proposal?

Christopher Taylor: Well, I'd say it's far from the right time. It should have been done years ago. The bottom line is that we have a climate crisis, and it's plain and obvious to all who see it. It's been declared, at least locally, by the city council. And we need to do everything we can to bring to bring our community down to net zero.

David Fair: And, well, it was in November of 2019, that Ann Arbor City Council did declare that climate emergency and has set forth the ambition plan you referred to become carbon neutral by the year 2030. Would that goal be possible based on what you know today, without a significant infusion of money, like the proposed tax would put into the city coffers?

Christopher Taylor: Absolutely not. It's critical that the municipal organization, the city, have both the the staff necessary to try to run programs and the funding necessary to implement programs. Resources are--additional resources--are and have always been known to be necessary to achieve those goals.

David Fair: This proposal also comes at a time when the Biden administration is taking more proactive measures to better address the climate crisis and its growing impacts on communities around the country. We've seen plenty of that in Washtenaw and Wayne Counties as of late. How do you envision a local levy working in concert with state and federal investments into cutting emission of greenhouse gases and moving toward that carbon neutrality?

Christopher Taylor: Well, here, a local community climate action millage will focus on local programs that will focus on building city staff and implementing direct to resident programs to, you know, to improve their to reduce their carbon footprint and improve energy efficiency, improve local recycling and composting efforts, and so forth. You know, the programs and monies that we'll be getting from the federal government if it all comes to pass, well, it's not yet fully formed. It's not fully visualized. And we don't know exactly what it will entail. And we also don't know the duration of those programs. We do know that we in Ann Arbor have our A2Zero plan--that A2Zero plan--is developed and and strategic, and it provides us a path to get to community wide carbon neutrality. And, you know, we need the resources to do it.

David Fair: Eighty-Nine one WEMU's Issues of the Environment conversation with Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor continues. And Mr. Mayor, I'm sure you know asking voters for a 20 year tax commitment is a big deal. People want to know how that money will be put to use. And, obviously, things will change over two decades, and priorities will be altered year after year. But do you have an initial spending priority that has been included in the potential tax proposal?

Christopher Taylor: Yes, we absolutely do. And we've been working, of course, with community experts and environmental justice leaders. And we will have a use resolution which will come before council when the ballot does. A ballot proposal does come before council to explain with a fair bit of detail the categories into which we will be taking millage-funded action. With particularity, it'll be things along the lines of year-round composting and recycling, the, you know, proliferation of neighborhood and community solar, working on energy efficiency, particularly for low income residents. So much of, you know, that's really where a lot of low hanging fruit is, the increased support for electrification of our infrastructure. These are some of the areas in which we're going to take action.

David Fair: I know that you're always looking for best practices, and, perhaps, a manner in which to study what others have done. Boulder, Colorado is another community that has a voter-approved climate tax in place. Its measure taxes, residents, and businesses based on the amount of electricity they use. If you had conversations with some of the elected leaders and experts in Boulder about their climate action program and maybe learn from what we can take away and apply here.

Christopher Taylor: You know, I have not personally. I do know that our are staff that do the office of OSI, the Office of Sustainability Innovations, works a great deal with, you know, other experts throughout the country. You know, the regulatory structure is very different from state to state. What works like a dream in in one location and one environment is nearly impossible in another. And so, you know, we have to work with the resources that we have. That is including the local resources that we hope to raise through our community climate action millage. But also, we need to work in the regulatory environment that Michigan presents us with. So, you know, we'll be trying to thread that balance.

David Fair: And one of the things that happens when you move even within the state of Michigan, community to community with different regulations and guidelines, is that there is not unanimity in how to proceed forward. So thinking on a more regional basis is often a better practice. Over the years, many have put forth in Michigan the concept of a user tax that, if you drive 40 miles to work, perhaps a higher tax rate should be applied. Then, for those who rarely drive or choose to either walk, cycle, or use public transportation, even the idea of toll roads has been floated. And, of course, that would involve the state. Does any of that figure into your vision of our local transportation and energy future, or do you not have that luxury?

Christopher Taylor: Well, we are not--we don't have that. That's not part of our regulatory plan. You know, we do not have the ability to levy, you know, local sales taxes, local mileage taxes, local gas taxes, commuter taxes, and so forth. And we're going to be focusing on what we can do here. And that is, you know, we can ask the voters to support a community climate action millage to promote, you know, resident-facing programs, programs that'll save residents money that will move us towards our carbon neutrality goal. And that's going to be what I hope to achieve with the millage.

David Fair: Once again, we're talking with Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. He's our guest for 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment this week. And, through the course of history, national and local, there has been inequity in the manner in which public monies are dispersed. It has contributed to segregation in our communities, to an increasing wealth gap, food deserts, and environmental and public health issues. How would this proposal assure equitable outcomes and avoid the trappings of some old and systemic prejudices?

Christopher Taylor: That's a great question, and it's absolutely critical and central to the program. We are moving forward with great intentionality, you know, collaborating with environmental justice leaders, listening where to the sorts of their advice and recommendations and responses to programs that are envisioned so that we make sure that they are that their equity piece by way of example. As I described, energy efficiency is a great way to support low income residents. An example is the distribution of trees. You know, we want to plant p10,000 more trees in Ann Arbor. And there are some parts of our city that are blessed with an old canopy, and that provides great benefits to those locations. And there are others. And it won't surprise you to learn in some of our less affluent areas where the tree canopy is not so developed. It's absolutely critical that when we as a municipal organization go out and strategize about where we're going to take action, that we take equity into account, that we do that absolutely everything.

David Fair: Now, there has been a lot of confidence expressed that once finalized and put forth that the voters of Ann Arbor will support this measure. There was, I believe, a desire to get council to approve the community climate action plan in time for it to make this November's ballot. Where does that process stand right now?

Christopher Taylor: Yeah, we're going to be looking. I share that confidence. I talk to people every day about their hopes and dreams of the city and, you know, how they view the city's place and, you know, the state and the country. And we all know that the carbon neutrality is a goal that we must achieve. They all know that we need to take climate action. We need to take it yesterday, and they know that Ann Arbor needs to play a role. I'm going to be looking forward to bringing this measure to council and bring it to a ballot in 2022, where we can talk with precision and detail about the sorts of things that we will be implementing in the event that the voters pass the millage. It's really important that we we make that connection for people, that it is very clear to folks, and, you know, a ballot measure in 2022 will give us the opportunity to do so.

David Fair: We know that November general elections typically have higher turnout, but there is an election in the spring and another in August of next year. Do you have a preference as to where it would appear?

Christopher Taylor: At this point, no. We're still working the sorts of things out. What's going to be important is that we make sure that residents understand what we're asking of them. They understand the benefits to themselves personally to the A2Zero program in the sorts of things that the millage will fund. And once we make that case to voters, once they understand the programs that it will allow us to implement, I'm pretty confident that they're going to approve it hands down.

David Fair: Well, between now and then, we'll have plenty of opportunity to talk again about what exactly this plan does include and where we're headed from there.

Christopher Taylor: Absolutely.

David Fair: That is Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, filling us in on a potential 20-year, one mill tax to fund the ongoing effort to combat the climate crisis. For more information on the Community Climate Action Mileage Plan, visit our Web page at WEMU dot org. And we'll have all the information and links you need. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is Eighty-Nine one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu