State legislation could block sugary drinks tax, Santa Fe mayor fears

Backers of Mayor Javier Gonzales’ proposal to impose a 2-cents-an-ounce tax sugary beverages to fund early childhood education programs in Santa Fe are worried that a bill pending in the state Legislature could jeopardize the idea.

Javier Gonzales

Courtesy photo

Javier Gonzales

State lawmakers are considering a bill that could prohibit a municipality such as Santa Fe from imposing an excise tax on food and beverages.

“If House Bill 430 were to become law, it would kill expanded Pre-K in Santa Fe,” Carol Oppenheimer and Morty Simon, lawyers who helped run Gonzales’ mayoral campaign three years ago, wrote Wednesday in an “urgent” email to supporters of the tax, which the mayor wants to put before voters in a special election this spring.

While the bill faces a tough road with only about two-and-a-half weeks left in the 2017 legislative session, it puts another wrinkle in the mayor’s initiative, which is headed to a City Council vote in less than a week. Councilors still have questions about the proposal, which is undergoing some last-minute changes.

Even before the council vote, campaigns supporting and opposing the proposed tax are underway. The latest salvo is a radio ad featuring a Santa Fe mother who talks about the high cost of living in the city and how the proposed tax “is just another obstacle,” said David Huynh, an adviser to Better Way For Santa Fe & Pre-K, a group opposing such a tax.

“We basically purchased ads that would saturate the airwaves,” he said Wednesday, adding that he didn’t know exactly which stations are airing the ads or for how long.

A group supporting the mayor’s proposal has sent out mailers attacking two city councilors who introduced a resolution against spending money on a special election and instead adding the tax question to the ballot for the regularly scheduled municipal election in March, when voters will choose a mayor and fill four of the eight council seats.

Gonzales showed up at the state Capitol on Wednesday to testify against HB 430, which was scheduled to be considered by the House Business and Industry Committee. But the bill was delayed.

“The only reason we are considering this option is because the state has failed to fund early childhood education,” Gonzales said in a statement.

“The preemption, if passed, will block Santa Feans from having their voices heard in an election and put the interests of big soda ahead of 1,000 Santa Fe 3- and 4-year-olds,” Gonzales added. “Our families are counting on Democrats in the Legislature to lead, and that means valuing children more than corporations.”

Republican state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes of Albuquerque, who is sponsoring the bill, did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

The bill as written might give the city some wiggle room to try to adopt a sugary drinks tax.

A fiscal impact report said: “House Bill 430 prohibits a municipality from imposing an excise tax on food or beverages. Items currently prohibited by law include tobacco, liquor, motor fuels and motor vehicles. A municipality may continue to impose an excise tax of the sales, gross receipts on other items not prohibited and on any other type of specific products or services, if those products or services taxed are each named specifically in the tax ordinance and as approved by a majority vote in the municipality.”

This article comes from The Santa Fe New Mexican. NMPolitics.net is paying for the rights to publish articles about the 2017 legislative session from the newspaper. Help us cover the cost by making a donation to NMPolitics.net. Contact Daniel J. Chacón at (505) 986-3089 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.

This BBSNews article was syndicated from NMPolitics.net, and written by Heath Haussamen, NMPolitics.net. Read the original article here.