Capitol Notebook: State senator wants study of soda tax

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Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino

SANTA FE – Debate over a soda tax is about to bubble up again.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, will ask his colleagues in the Legislature next month to support studying a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

New Mexico’s gross receipts tax system includes an exemption on the sale of food, including colas, root beer and other sugary drinks.

“We get absolutely zero from the sale of soft drinks,” Ortiz y Pino said Wednesday, “and yet they are incredibly damaging in terms of health care costs that we then have to pick up.”

In May, Santa Fe voters rejected a proposal to impose a tax of 2 cents per ounce on the distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages, with the revenue earmarked for early childhood programs.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez highlighted the results as a sign that voters aren’t ready for higher taxes, even in liberal Santa Fe.

Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat, isn’t proposing a specific tax, just a study.

His measure, Senate Joint Memorial 6, would ask legislative staffers to study the potential revenue from a tax on sugary drinks, the most effective ways to impose such a tax, the potential health benefits and any negative consequences. The report would be due Oct. 1.

The 30-day legislative session begins Jan. 16. It will be dedicated largely to crafting a new state budget, but joint memorials – like the one Ortiz y Pino proposes – don’t require permission from the governor to be added to the agenda.

Pre-filed bills: About 120 bills have been pre-filed ahead of the session – the last regular session of Martinez’s tenure as governor.

Budget and tax matters are expected to dominate the debate, but it’s clear that anti-crime legislation will also be a priority.

Two Albuquerque Republicans – House Minority Leader Nate Gentry and Rep. Bill Rehm, are sponsoring a number of bills related to public safety – including measures aimed at helping cities and counties retain experienced officers and bills that would toughen criminal penalties.

Some of the proposals overlap with priorities Democrats have announced, so perhaps there’s a chance of some bipartisan action as New Mexico continues to struggle with high crime rates.

Dan McKay:

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