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$70M sales tax for Denver Health to go on November ballot if mayor signs bill

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(The Center Square) – Denver voters would decide on increasing its sales tax by three-fourths of a cent to provide funding for the city’s hospital system if approved by Democrat Mayor Mike Johnston.

The Denver City Council voted 12-1 to approve Bill 24-0717 to put the sales tax on the November general election ballot. The ballot language states it will raise approximately $70 million.

“On average, Denver Health has absorbed approximately $100 million in each of the last two years for uncompensated care being provided to Denver residents, and that figure is projected to rise to $124 million in 2025,” the bill states. “Dedicated funding to apply to that gap is necessary to sustain the critically important work and services being provided by Denver Health.”

Councilman Kevin Flynn was the only vote against the bill and stated his concerns during a council meeting last week.

“It brings me no enjoyment to come to the conclusion that I’m going to vote no on this,” Flynn said. “I understand completely the need at Denver Health and Hospital Authority for traditional sustainable revenue to meet their deficit, particularly with those who come in uninsured and are treated.”

Flynn urged the council to find funding other than by a sales tax.

“I’m just disappointed that we continue to turn reflexively to the sales tax to fund things like this,” Flynn said. “Sales tax is the most regressive form of taxation. It hits lower income households to a greater degree.”

In an email to The Center Square, Flynn praised Denver Health’s work and mission.

“Denver Health is arguably the most deserving of such a tax, had it come before us a decade ago,” Flynn wrote. “But Denver already has special sales taxes for eight other programs, such as healthy food for children, homelessness resolution, assistance for college costs, climate action programs, parks acquisition and expansion, mental health and substance abuse care and more. Metro-wide, we’ve passed sales taxes to build two sports stadiums, support arts and cultural institutions, and build and operate our public transit.”

Flynn said the hospital acts as a safety net for the area as a top-level trauma center and serves people from throughout the region, including the indigent.

“I don’t believe this is the responsibility solely of the Denver taxpayer to make up these deficits,” Flynn said. “I would wish for a more regional situation. … I know it’s politically a much heavier lift to look at a regional funding solution. But that could apply to other hospitals in the metro area, who would perhaps be more willing to treat indigent patients than they are now.”

Councilwoman Flor Alvidrez said Denver Health’s current situation must be immediately addressed.

“I definitely would love to see a regional approach or another way to do this,” Alvidrez said during the meeting. “But this is urgent. We need to do something now.”

Flynn also asked the council where the ceiling would be for sales taxes. He added the city’s current sales tax revenue isn’t meeting expectations.

“It’s not my desire to have the highest sales tax in the metro area,” Flynn said.

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