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Money war over soda tax begins in Santa Fe

SANTA FE, N.M. — “Big Soda” has a lot of interest in Santa Fe’s upcoming special election to impose a soda tax to pay for pre-kindergarten education and so does former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to campaign finance reports.

The American Beverage Association has provided a $100,000 cash donation to Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K, a PAC that opposes the proposed 2-cent-per-once tax on soda, energy drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages, according to the first campaign finance statements that were due at City Hall on Thursday.

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The ABA also spent $154,635 on “in-kind” contributions, which are for services rendered or paid for as opposed to cash donations, to fight the soda tax.

On the other side, Bloomberg – who has also supported taxes on sugary drinks elsewhere and tried to limit soda serving sizes in New York – contributed $96,750 in in-kind contributions, including $30,000 for “media” and $66,750 for research, to Pre-K for Santa Fe, a PAC supporting the tax-for-pre-K proposal.

Sandra Wechsler of Pre-K for Santa Fe said Bloomberg paid for a photo shoot and donated the photos to the PAC. She said he also paid for research and shared the findings.

The City Council voted earlier this month to put the tax before Santa Fe voters in a May 2 special election. The levy is expected to generate more than $7 million a year to improve and expand early childhood education programs in the city.

Mayor Javier Gonzales, who proposed the tax, has said the program would provide free or affordable pre-K slots for roughly 1,000 children ages 3 and 4 in the city who don’t have access to early childhood education now, boosting education and professional success down the line.

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Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Opponents say they support more pre-K services, but that a sweetened-beverage tax could cost jobs, would hit low-income families the hardest, and unfairly targets only certain consumers and businesses to pay for a community program.

Some of the services the ABA paid for include $96,451 for print and radio ads, and $42,880 for a mailer opposing the tax. Mailers on both sides of the tax issue were sent out before the City Council voted to put the tax on the ballot.

Coca-Cola Bottling of Santa Fe didn’t make a monetary donation to Better Way for Santa Fe, but contributed $44,215 in in-kind contributions, including $38,411 for “employee time and meals,” according to the campaign statements. The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce covered employee time and travel expenses worth $2,000.

For the tax, Pre-K for Santa Fe got $101,855 in cash donations. The left-leaning Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÈ) gave two separate checks for a total of $100,000, and the National Education Association-Santa Fe gave $1,000. The rest came from individual contributions.

OLÈ also contributed $30,208 in in-kind services for a “field canvass.” Wechsler said the group went door to door to campaign for the tax.

Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K spent has spent $95,564 to protest the tax, including $37,554.66 to the Dewey Square Group in Washington, D.C., for consulting, transportation and lodging.

Pre-K for Santa Fe spent $43,216 for the ballot proposals, leaving a balance of almost $59,000. Some expenditures include two separate payments worth $19,500 to Stephen Clermont of Burke, Va., for polling and $6,280 to an Austin company for mailers.

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