It’s one thing to write legislation with unintended impacts, it’s another to copy and paste a bill after watching another state suffer through its consequences. But that’s what’s happening in New York and Minnesota following the enactment of unpopular delivery tax legislation in Colorado.
For context, let’s rewind the clock to 2022, when Colorado’s delivery tax, which was intended to help fund a transportation deficit, went into effect. Immediately, a drove of local businesses objected to the tax, raising concerns that they weren’t made aware of the new fees, that the new taxes were complicated to comply with, and that inflation-stricken customers didn’t need another price hike. Colorado consumers, meanwhile, began to notice the new tax fees pop up on online orders. And the bill sparked a lawsuit for violating voter-approved tax rules.
Putting aside the political fallout from Colorado’s delivery tax and its harm to local businesses, perhaps the worst element of this policy is that the bill institutes a thoroughly regressive taxation scheme which puts the welfare of people with cars and access to grocery stores above the welfare of people without those conveniences.
In a message defending the Colorado bill from growing opposition after enactment, a spokesperson for the Colorado governor noted their delivery tax legislation simultaneously lowered the cost of car registration, so that a two-car family might actually save money over the course of a year. The message was clear: if you’re a two-car family that can get yourself to a grocery store, you’ll save money. If not, you could end up paying more.
Of course, it’s the working families without two cars who are least able to foot the bill for transportation projects, and it’s the families without two cars that use public roads less. In fact, the Colorado Department of Transportation notes in their own study on the mobility needs of low-income households that 11 percent of poor, rural households and 27 percent of poor, urban households have no car.
For many low-income families, especially those living in areas without a grocery store or access to healthy foods, delivery isn’t just a convenience, it’s a necessity. In fact, a recent study by Brookings found that delivery can help extend grocery access to 90 percent of people living in low-income, low-access areas.
So it’s dismaying that, in the midst of this lashback, two states controlled by Democratic lawmakers are pursuing a repeat of Colorado’s regressive delivery tax. To make matters worse, the states pursuing this legislation, Minnesota and New York, each struggle with their own large low-income, low-access areas without options for buying healthy foods.
In Minnesota, an estimated 13.5 percent of low-income families in the Twin Cities live more than half a mile from their nearest grocery store. In Rochester and Buffalo, New York, around 18 percent of low-income families don’t have easy access to a grocery store.
The promise of delivery isn’t lost on leaders who are working to address the issue of food access for working families. In New York, state officials and charitable funds have both endeavored to expand grocery delivery as part of the solution to food deserts.
So it’s puzzling that state legislators would simultaneously take aim at these families and services with a bill that imposes a regressive tax on deliveries. Especially when Colorado’s delivery tax hasn’t been greeted with fanfare so much as derision and a bipartisan effort to revise the law.
Maybe that’s why some state lawmakers are already speaking out in opposition to the New York delivery tax. Whether the proposed bills in Minnesota and New York make further progress remains to be seen.