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Santa Fe Rejects Soda Tax That Would Support Pre-K

Voters in Santa Fe, N.M., have rejected a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on distributors of sodas and other sugary beverages which, if passed, would have helped support prekindergarten within Santa Fe Public Schools. The proposed tax was estimated to have been one of the nation's highest of its kind, projected to generate about $7.7 million in its first year, in preparation for use starting in the summer of 2018.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the pro-tax political action committee Pre-K for Santa Fe conceded the election before the official final result came in revealing that 58 percent had voted against the measure May 2.

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, who introduced the measure last year, said it was needed to expand high-quality preschool to 1,000 children whose families cannot afford or find it, the Associated Press reported. His supporters touted the bill as a solution to unsuccessful efforts by Democrats in the state legislature to expand early-childhood education by using part of the state's $15 billion land grant endowment.

"I put this forward because I see thousands of Santa Fe children start their lives behind the curve, and I simply can't stand aside and do nothing when the possibility to act and act decisively is right there in front of us," he said in a statement after the proposal failed. He continued:

If one thing was clear in this debate, it is that there is overwhelming support for finding a way to make sure every child in Santa Fe and in New Mexico can go as far as their dreams will take them. We may not all agree on how we get there, but that's okay, that's how it's supposed to work. 

The state currently allocates about $50 million a year to provide full- and part-time preschool for about 9,000 children.

The 37.6 percent turnout of registered voters represented more than came out for a recent mayoral race. The high turnout was primarily due to contributions from political action committees on both sides, which spent more than $3.1 million on promotional materials for the campaign. These figures include substantial cash from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who poured more than $1 million into the Pre-K for Santa Fe foundation.

Critics painted the proposed tax as an ineffective and unfair overreach of government authority.

Last year, the City Council of Philadelphia voted overwhelmingly in favor of a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, despite 58 percent public opposition in opinion polling. The initiative is expected to raise $409 million over five years for preschool and other city programs, but as of last month, the American Beverage Association and local businesses are suing to abolish it sooner to curtail what they see as its damaging effects on the local economy. The case is expected to end up in the state's supreme court.

Six other jurisdictions—including San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif.—currently have some form of health- or education- based children's initiative in place stemming from funds gathered through sugary beverage taxes. Next on the ballot is Seattle, where Mayor Ed Murray recently proposed a new 2-cents-per-ounce tax intended in part to fund graduation rate improvement efforts among minority students. In Portland, Ore., health advocates have started collecting signatures in favor of a similar act as well.

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