Just a few months ago, fire obliterated entire communities in California. A year before that, multiple hurricanes devastated vast swaths of the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. And experts have identified millions upon millions of homes that continue to be at risk of everything from future wildland blazes to rising sea levels.
Fighting these dire conditions isn’t cheap, but increasingly local and regional governments are turning to the same source for cash: Homeowners, who are being asked to pony up climate change-fighting funds in the form of new taxes.
The latest proposal comes from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who wants to raise the taxes homeowners pay when they sell their property. Baker floated the idea at a government meeting Friday, saying he wants to increase the state’s excise deed tax — or the fee homeowners pay to the state at the time of a sale — from $2 per $500 of the home’s value to $3 in most counties. That means someone selling a house for $500,000 currently pays $2,000 in excise taxes, but under the new proposal would instead pay $3,000.
In a statement, Baker described the proposal as a “modest increase.”
Baker’s proposal also involves spending $75 million during fiscal year 2020 to protect Massachusetts residents from climate change. Cities and towns can access the money and use it to deal with floods and droughts, to retrofit infrastructure such as dams, and for land use planning.
The tax increase should also raise “$137 million on an ongoing, annualized basis” for the state’s Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund, according to Baker’s statement.
Baker’s office did not respond to Inman’s request for comment, but in his statement he explained that “over the last four years, we have increasingly witnessed the effects that climate change has on communities and infrastructure across the Commonwealth, and know that the investments we make today are critical to ensure cities and towns are prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow.”
The proposal from Baker — a Republican who has in the past generally spoken out against new taxes — is just one of a number taxes that position homeowners as a bank from which to draw anti-climate change funds.
Perhaps most notably, in November Los Angeles County voters approved a measure that taxes property owners for all the impermeable surfaces on their land. Nearly 70 percent of the county’s voters okayed the measure, which charges land owners 2.5 cents for each square foot of their property on which water can’t soak into the ground.
Revenue from the new tax will be used to capture and clean up stormwater, which happens to be a hot-button topic in Southern California thanks to years of crippling drought that experts have said is exacerbated by climate change.
In 2016, voters in the Bay Area also approved a property tax tied to the adverse impacts of climate change. Measure AA imposed a $12 per year parcel tax, then directed the resulting funds to restore wetlands threatened by rising sea levels. The tax affected property owners in nine different counties.
Together, the Massachusetts, Los Angeles, and Bay Area climate-related plans impacted tens of millions of people, and they also don’t include in a variety other fees and property taxes imposed at the local level that are designed to fight things like flooding and fires — which scientists have long said are worsened by climate change.
The taxes also come as consequences of climate change come into greater focus. Last month, for example, a report revealed that the cost of housing skyrocketed in communities that were devastated by California’s Camp Fire. Climate-related disasters such as fires and flooding have also pushed up home delinquency rates in impacted communities.
Perhaps of most immediate concern to coastal states like Massachusetts and California, a government assessment last year further found that roughly 50 million homes along U.S. shorelines could be threatened by rising sea levels. And in the Los Angeles area, officials recently approved a new 19,000-home development in the middle of a high-risk fire zone.
Back in Massachusetts, Baker included his climate proposal in his new budget, unveiled Wednesday. In his statement, he echoed the arguments of other leaders who have found themselves confronted with a changing climate, saying that the money raised would add to “the over $600 million we have already invested to mitigate and prepare for the adverse effects of climate change and help to build more resilient communities.”