SANTA FE, N.M. — The Archdiocese of Santa Fe gave its blessing to the proposal to tax distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages this week after one of its priests reportedly came out against the tax with posts on his personal Facebook page.
On Wednesday, the archdiocese issued a statement in support of a 2-cents-per-ounce tax that is expected to raise more than $7 million per year to help fund local early childhood education programs. Early voting has already started for a special election that will decide the matter on May 2.
“The soda tax is a good attempt to address the dire conditions in which our children are living,” said the statement from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s office of communications. “In good conscience, we cannot let our children stagnate in the plight they are in, with some of the worst wellbeing outcomes in the nation.”
The statement notes that New Mexico ranks No. 1 in the nation for children living in poverty and second-highest for children living in hunger. It says that because of the New Mexico state Senate’s failure to support a constitutional amendment to earmark more from the state’s largest permanent fund to finance early education programs, “municipalities must seek funding for essential programs.”
“We must put our children first. If the State fails to address this, then we commend municipalities for taking action to address the wellbeing of our children.”
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an interview Friday said the church hadn’t weighed in on the soda tax proposal in Santa Fe until now because the debate is just now reaching a “boiling point.”
The statement from the archdiocese came the same day the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the rector at the Cathedral Bascilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe had come out against the tax with a post on his personal Facebook page. “Vote NO on the sugar/soda tax!,” Rev. Adam Lee Ortega y Ortiz, reportedly said in a message since deleted. “I fully support Pre-K for Santa Fe BUT THIS TAX IS WRONG!!”
Sanchez said that’s not what prompted Archbishop John Wester to release a statement. “But it does bring up the issue that maybe we need to have one clear voice on the issue,” he said.
Sanchez said the church has been having a dialogue with Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales. He commended the mayor making the children of the community a priority.
Mayor Gonzales thanked the archdiocese for the endorsement in a statement. “It is a direct reflection of Pope Francis when he said ‘always care for the children, not counting the costs,'” the mayor said. “He reminded us that ‘Every child who begs on the streets, who is denied an education or medical care, is a cry to God,'” the mayor said.
Asked for his response to the endorsement of the tax by the archdiocese, David Huynh of Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K, a political committee opposing the tax, said, “There’s clearly some division within the Catholic church on who supports and who does not. We’re happy with support we’re getting throughout the community.”
On Thursday, Santa Fe’s Interfaith Coalition for Public Education also came out with an endorsement of the tax. In a news release, it said that “this tax and the implementation plan provide a solid foundation for improving the health and educational outcomes of our children, particularly our neediest children.”