SANTA FE, N.M. — For nearly two decades, I was a District Judge in the First Judicial District, which includes my home town, Santa Fe. For much of that time, I was the Children’s Court Judge. Every day, I asked myself what the potential was for a child who had gotten into trouble. Could a counseling program help? How could the child learn job skills? Was the child too far gone to be a successful community member?
Fortunately, I grew up in difficult circumstances. I say “fortunately” because it made it easier for me to see the humanity in these children, all of us being from the same background. Every day, I am grateful for the love and strength of my mother in helping me believe in myself. Too many of the kids I knew were smart, but were never helped to believe in themselves.
That is why I am so excited about Pre-K for Santa Fe. It would mean a dramatic expansion of pre-K if it is approved by the voters on May 2. I am grateful that it is aimed at the children I knew who were never prepared for school. Before I was a judge, I was a School Board member, so I know how crucial pre-K is for the success of disadvantaged children.
Big Soda is funding a local group that opposes a sugary beverage tax to pay for pre-K. They say it is an unstable revenue source because sugary beverage consumption might go down. They say there is a “better way.” But when you look at what they propose, the “better way” means “no way.” The only concrete proposal they make is that we use this year’s projected city surplus, which would be the first surplus in years.
However, everyone knows that the most unstable source of revenue would be waiting each year to see if there is a city surplus at the end of the year.
The one thing we can and should do to fund pre-K is put a tax on the distributors of sugary drinks by voting yes on May 2. That is what the City Council, by an 8 to 1 vote, is asking us to do. There is no “better way.”
A sugary soda tax on distributors to pay for pre-K is a “win-win” solution.
First, it makes sense from a public health point of view. We have a diabetes epidemic. We should encourage people to switch from sugary drinks to other beverages. Rates of obesity and diabetes are highest among poor and minority people, so giving them incentives to switch to non-sugary drinks gives them better health, as well as pre-K for their children.
Second, sugary drinks are quite profitable. Restaurants in town commonly sell a Coke for $2.50. That Coke costs them $.20 cents to make. That is a profit of over $2 per drink. A tax of 2 cents an ounce on a 16-ounce drink (the ice plus 11 ounces of soda) is only 22 cents. That is not asking much.
Finally, I have diabetes. I just had a kidney transplant caused by my own habit of drinking sugary drinks and other sugary products when I was a child and a young man. I can tell you that diabetes is an awful disease.
Look in your hearts. If all the children in this town are truly children to all of us, then there is no question what we should do. We should vote yes on Pre-K for Santa Fe on May 2.
Michael E. Vigil is a retired state District Court judge whose bench was in the First Judicial District in Santa Fe.