Santa Fe Residents Vote Down $.02 Per Ounce Sugary Beverage Tax

Image courtesy of Eric BEAUME

Santa Fe residents have rejected a city proposal that would have added a $.02 per ounce tax to all sugar-sweetened beverages in the city, ending a heated battle between opposing organizations that spent at least $163 per voter trying to win people to their side.

The proposal was structurally similar to taxes approved last year in San Francisco and in Philadelphia, with a tax of $.02 per ounce of sugary beverage charged at the distributor level. If that seems tiny, note that it adds up with larger bottles.

In Philadelphia, a tax of $.015 per ounce on drinks sweetened with sugars or zero-calorie sweeteners meant an increase of at least $1 on 2-liter bottles, with some retailers and restaurants adding their own price hikes. That led beverage giants Coke and Pepsi to just stop selling 2-liter bottles in the city limits.

Voters interviewed by local paper the New Mexican were generally in favor of universal pre-kindergarten and against drinking too much sugar, but saw the nuances of the issue, including how much the tax could hurt locally owned businesses and families who lack grocery shopping options.

“People who are barely able to afford groceries won’t be able to purchase their groceries,” one voter told the paper.

Other voters argued that education before kindergarten should be the parent’s responsibility, not the city government. “I pay for my 3-year-old to go to a prekindergarten program, so it’s on the parent,” one mother told a reporter. “I don’t think it’s on the government. We have a public school system that begins at kindergarten.”

However they voted, city residents said that they were happy for the campaign to be over. They were blanketed with flyers and visited repeatedly by canvassers for both sides.

Most of the money in the campaign came from two sources. Trade group the American Beverage Association spent $1.3 million campaigning in favor of the tax, and noted anti-soft drink billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $1.1 million to a committee campaigning for the tax. Public health groups, teachers’ unions, and the local Roman Catholic diocese also took pro-tax stances, though the latter two groups would probably say that they were for pre-K.