In the South, everything is a Coke. Around the middle of the country, it’s all pop. To most everyone else, it’s soda. Lately, in Santa Fe, we’re hearing about “sugar-sweetened beverages.” It really rolls off the tongue.
Early voting begins today, April 12, in a May 2 special election for a single question: To tax or not to tax this three-word subset of our consumptive culture?
Are you surprised that the city is having an election in an odd year? Special, indeed. Backers just couldn't wait until next spring during the regular city election; their haste will cost you, dear voter, an estimated $85,000 or so.
But fret not. The more than $7 million projected to pour into the city's coffers each year like a two-liter godsend on a hot day is, after all, going to the children.
Well, maybe not straight to the children. Rather, the city aims to spread the cash among various providers of pre-K, a sort of hybrid between childcare and nursery school. The plan, they say, will increase the number of pre-K slots for kids, improve the quality of experience and make it more affordable for parents.
On the surface, it's not hard to agree that too much sugar is bad and that more learning for kids is good. Yet below the surface of this proposal, there's a lot bubbling away.
Let this not be misunderstood: We're as annoyed as anyone about a national group dumping money into a local decision. Ads funded by the American Beverage Association have said things that just are not true—like a recent mailer that said the city had hiked electricity rates. (The city does not control those rates.)
We also firmly believe that the community—specifically the state and the school board—have an obligation to do better for our children. We are proud that a group of Santa Feans that includes business owners and retired economists wants the city to take on big problems.
Yet, even with some new faces at the pro-tax Pre-K for Santa Fe, it's still run by the progressive cabal that pulls the strings here. The same consultant behind the political action committee that spent big in the last mayoral election is head of this PAC. That's a turnoff.
And we join others who are suspicious of the mayor's intentions. Javier Gonzales is hedging about his next political step. Rather than declaring his candidacy for another term as mayor in the face of a bold pronouncement from Councilor Ron Trujillo that he'll seek the post in next year's election, Gonzales has hinted that he may run for governor in the June 2018 Democratic primary. We can't help but think the outcome of this election will help him decide.
The last time Santa Fe held a special election for a single issue, the question of a real-estate transfer tax on high-end homes that would have raised money for affordable housing, voters told City Hall "no," and the mayor apparently didn't favor that effort. In fact, Gonzales didn't vote at all. He said in an interview last week that he couldn't remember whether he voted or not, and City Hall spokesman Matt Ross later told SFR that the mayor "missed" that election in 2009.
The tax will hike the price of a product that's not essential to survival, Gonzales argues. In fact, it's a product that's proven to be harmful. We concede that point. Plus, the soda machine company recently took away the vending machine at SFR because we did not empty it frequently enough. (We drink coffee.)
However, even if you remove the issue's political face, this proposal is a "no" for us because it ultimately requires the city to take on a whole new bureaucracy, not just hiring a third-party contractor to collect the tax from distributors, but also overseeing who gets the money and monitoring outcomes.
If City Hall is really thirsty for a pre-K plan, it's worth refining, simplifying and taking another swig with a methodical precision, community buy-in, and fewer questions about political posturing. Come back with a lower tax during a regular election, and partner with public agencies that already specialize in education. It's for the children, after all.