Aurora could soon become the first city in Colorado to exempt diapers from local sales tax after the City Council approved the measure Monday night.
Councilmember Curtis Gardner brought forward the ordinance this year after successfully passing a city sales tax exemption on menstrual products that he sponsored last year with former Council member Allison Hiltz.
The ordinance, which is set to take effect June 1, would apply to both infant diapers and adult incontinence products, exempting them from the city’s sales and use tax of 3.75%. It would cost the city about $575,000 in revenue per year, according to a staff analysis. City research shows that no other city in the state has adopted a measure to exempt diapers from local sales taxes.
The measure passed on a 6-3 vote, with council members Zvonek, Danielle Jurinsky and Angela Lawson voting against.
In both the cases of diapers and menstrual products, Gardner said they heard from school districts and community groups about families who couldn’t afford the products and had to send their kids to school with napkins or plastic bags taped to them.
“Diapers kind of fall under the same category (as period products) in terms of they’re a necessary product,” Gardner said in an interview. “We exempt groceries, we exempt other medical supplies, and so to me, diapers, are the same kind of thing. …I thought it was a good way to signal that we want to help families in our city.”
In 2019, Aurora-based WeeCycle, which operates a diaper bank program, donated 237,000 diapers to families in need. In 2021, that number shot up to 1.1 million (with support from state funding), “still only scraping the surface of the need that exists in our state,” said Development Director Lindsey Zaback.
A statewide measure is also moving through the legislature to exempt menstrual products and diapers from the state sales tax, but that won’t affect local taxes unless councils like Aurora make that change. Denver, for example, already exempts menstrual products from its city taxes.
Although the Aurora ordinance passed with support from conservative and progressive members on the City Council, Gardner wasn’t able to convince all his fellow conservative members to sign on, which he said “flabbergasted” him.
Council member Dustin Zvonek said at the meeting that he understood the desire to help residents with rising costs, but he’d prefer a more comprehensive “across-the-board reduction,” rather than what he called a carve-out, to help residents keep more money in their pockets and the city to be more competitive.
“I don’t believe that this is good policy,” Zvonek said of the diaper exemption. “It might be good politics, maybe. But I think it’s bad policy.”
But council members pointed out that there are already numerous tax exemptions for various items in the city, and Gardner said this wouldn’t just affect a small portion of Aurora families.
“I really don’t understand why there’s pushback on helping families in our city. It’s been pointed out that costs continue to rise. It’s been pointed out that we exempt other products, and yet we are drawing the line in the sand here,” he said. “It seems to me if there was a sales tax cut that came forward for developers I bet you we’d pass that in no time. But for whatever reason, when we have an opportunity to help families in our city, there’s a lot of hesitance to do that.”
Gardner also received the support of the more liberal members of council, with Council member Alison Coombs saying this type of cut helps families who have a particular need, and the effect on the city’s budget would be negligible.
“An across the board tax, sales tax cut would not be more equitable and is regressive,” she said.
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