Santa Fe “soda tax” regressive not progressive

On May 2, the Santa Fe City Council will hold a special municipal election on a proposed “soda tax.” Said tax would levy a 2-cents-per-ounce surcharge on various sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, teas, sports drinks, Kool-Aid and fruit juices, including concentrates and mixes. Championed by current Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, the tax is being sold as a way to discourage poor and working families from consuming sugary drinks and reduce childhood obesity, while the revenue generated by the tax will fund a Pre-K program.

This is not the first time a local government has pushed for a regressive sugar tax that falls hardest on the shoulders of the poor in order to fund something that should not be underfunded in the first place—like education. Last year, Philadelphia passed a soda tax with identical design and justification.

In spite of the fanfare surrounding the sugar tax as a silver bullet way to fund education, less than half of the generated revenue actually went to funding Pre-K.

The soda tax has a distinctly regressive nature. As was the case in Philadelphia, the beverages and drink mixes that will be subject to the tax are the lower cost ones mostly accessible to the poor, who live in communities often described as “food deserts” where inexpensive and healthy food options are non-existent.

More expensive beverages favored by the more well-to-do, such as bottled smoothies and “organic” soft drinks will remain untouched even though they often have just as much, if not more sugar than ordinary soft drinks or sugary beverages. In addition, luxury foods laden with sugar, fat and salt will not be taxed. This means that wealthier individuals, those most able to afford higher taxes, will not be forced to pay the sugar tax to fund public education. Instead, that burden will fall on the poor.

New Mexico ranks dead last in the nation in education, according to the 2016 Kids Count Data Book. The quick-fixes and silver bullet solutions proposed by liberal politicians are band aid-on-bullet wound approaches. Universal, free and high-quality education could be funded tomorrow if
politicians taxed the rich and the corporations. But the politicians find it easier to squeeze pennies from poor and working people’s incomes.

The real way to combat widespread public health issues like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other problems is to take on the for-profit Big Food industry—which is just as deadly as Big Tobacco—not tax the poor which doesn’t diminish the power of Big Food one iota. Addictive and cheap food products harmful to human health are created, proliferated throughout working class communities and aggressively marketed to our families and children. Something as essential to all human beings as food production should not be in the hands of capitalists. Their right to own and control food production systems needs to be abolished!

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