SANTA FE, N.M. — As the Santa Fe County treasurer who is charged with collecting and distributing property taxes, I have been asked several times about the soda tax that is up for a vote on May 2. What are my thoughts and opinions? I had to understand it before I could make my stand.
I don’t question the intentions of our mayor pushing this tax and I also support the goal of funding pre-K for those in need. After all, today’s youth is tomorrow’s future. Something needs to be done now more than later, but I think its overall tax structure is bad tax policy.
It makes no sense that Santa Fe, the most expensive city in New Mexico, which is one of the poorest states in the country, wants to impose one of the highest taxes ever that will hurt primarily poor and working families. I know it has been stated that the tax will not affect consumers, but the fact of doing business is to pass those fees to the consumer.
During this time of year, I see firsthand and feel the anguish when people come in with their tax bills and tell me they feel blindsided with all the increases. Santa Feans have been hit with more and more new taxes, and we have a majority of residents who are struggling to keep their heads above water financially. This would be the highest tax ever imposed here.
Our economy has not fully recovered from the recession that sent a record number of families into poverty. Those under the poverty line struggle and live day to day. This tax will not make their lives easier and our elected officials will be responsible for hurting instead of helping the majority of residents of Santa Fe.
This tax on drinks with sugar is going to push those families deeper into poverty and make it harder for them to pay their bills. This tax is not equal. The burden of the tax will be paid by the low and middle class because that is what they buy. By its very intention, this tax will end up being a sinkable fund, which means in three years the City will have to increase taxes somewhere else to fund the pre-K program because people will go elsewhere to buy or not buy at all.
People are already talking about driving to Española, Rio Rancho or Albuquerque to shop to avoid the tax. This will hurt our local revenue base.
This tax is supposed to serve 1,000 children, but there are many more who need pre-K. So why don’t our leaders go after funding that covers the pre-K needs of all of our community? Go after foundations or state and federal sources for education monies.
This is not a win-win tax, this is a lose-lose situation for those at the bottom of our economic ladder.
There are other sources of revenues that would have less of a negative impact and be more fair to everyone. Some cities are taxing plastic containers at a rate of 1/8th of a cent, which is used for public good, like senior care. Everyone contributes and the burden is distributed across the board and is not overwhelming against those who can least afford it, like this tax would be.
Santa Fe is known as a progressive city, which I interpret to mean people are interested in the public good. I like those good intentions. I’d remind those progressive leaders that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is also a progressive, opposes this same tax we are debating. He opposes it because it singles out those who can least afford it. If anyone was to be singled out for taxing, why not push Bernie’s idea and tax the top one percent who can easily afford an increase in their taxes.
I would hope our progressive friends keep this in mind when they go to the polls in a few days. After all, we live in a free country; why should governments tell us what to eat, drink or even wear?
Varela is the Santa Fe County treasurer.