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Rejection of soda tax spurring debate on taxes

SANTA FE – The soda tax defeat in New Mexico’s capital city this week interrupted a string of successful campaigns to increase taxes elsewhere.

And now political leaders and analysts are debating whether it’s a sign of renewed public skepticism toward raising taxes or just a blip without broader implications.

Voters in the Albuquerque area, by contrast, have been receptive to tax increases in recent elections. Since 2014, Albuquerque or Bernalillo County voters have supported tax increases for the BioPark, open-space lands and behavioral health programs.

And just this year, voters in Santa Fe supported a property tax increase for public schools.

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Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation, a libertarian-leaning group, said he hopes Santa Fe’s rejection of the proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks is a sign of a broader anti-tax mood.

“Voters feel like their backs are against the wall, economically speaking,” Gessing said in an interview. “We have the highest unemployment rate. We have all these economic challenges.”

The tax was particularly unpopular, he said, in middle- and lower-income parts of Santa Fe.

Pollster Brian Sanderoff

Pollster Brian Sanderoff

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which does scientific surveys for the Journal, said the soda tax was different from some of the other measures that have gone before voters.

For one thing, he said, the “sheer size” of the proposal may have played a role in its rejection.

The proposal would have imposed a tax of 2 cents per ounce on the distributors of sugar-sweetened drinks, which would have matched the highest rate in the nation. It had the potential to substantially increase the cost of buying soda, depending on whether distributors passed on the full cost of the tax. The revenue was to go toward early childhood services.

“I think it would be a mistake to read too much into using this election one way or another to predict the mood of New Mexicans,” Sanderoff said Wednesday.

His company, he noted, did a small amount of work for opponents of the tax.

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But Sanderoff, a longtime analyst of New Mexico politics, said local voters seem to be more receptive in general to small increases.

Gov. Susana Martinez – a Republican who vetoed a tax package passed by the Legislature this year – seized on Tuesday’s election as evidence that the public is tired of new taxes.

“Hopefully, legislators heard this message,” she said in a written statement late Tuesday.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said this week’s election results aren’t “related to taxes in general.” People on both sides of the debate, he said, had specific reasons for their votes.

“I know that the constituents I represent in the House are overwhelmingly in support of smart changes in tax policy to provide money for education and health care, so long as the taxes are fair and progressive in the way they’re put together,” Egolf said.


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