- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Proponents of a tax on sugary sodas in New Mexico’s capital city have raised and spent more in political contributions than opponents in efforts to sway the outcome of a ballot initiative, new financial statements indicated on Tuesday.

New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg contributed just over $800,000 in recent weeks to a political committee that is pushing for voter approval of the new tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Santa Fe.

The contributions - $400,000 in cash and additional in-kind support through advertising, research and consulting - put the pro-tax committee Pre-K for Santa Fe ahead financially of a rival committee backed by the soft-drink industry that opposes the soda tax.

Voters in Santa Fe have until May 2 to decide whether to levy a new 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks to help expand local prekindergarten programs.

Pre-K for Santa Fe has received nearly $1.5 million so far in cash and in-kind contributions to promote the tax, and spent over $1.3 million. The anti-tax committee Better Way for Santa Fe and Pre-K has raised a little over $1.2 million, mostly from the American Beverage Association.

Pre-K for Santa Fe committee Director Sandra Wechsler said Bloomberg’s donations have helped support local pro-tax voices in a “big David-Goliath fight of community versus corporations.”

David Huynh, a spokesman for the Better Way committee, said Bloomberg’s generosity was misplaced with a tax initiative that would increase prices on everyday beverages.

“Our message is resonating with working class families across Santa Fe,” he said.

Critics of the soda tax say it would be an unnecessary burden on taxpayers, and questioned whether it will provide a sustainable source of revenue to the city if it discourages soda consumption.

Proponents of the tax including Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales say it is needed to expand quality prekindergarten care to about 1,000 children in the city whose parents cannot find or afford it. The tax is expected to raise about $7.5 million in its first year.

A group called Progress New Mexico that opposes the tax on behalf of local business and restaurants has spent nearly $13,000 on its campaign.

Concerns about the political influence of untraceable “dark money” are being voiced on both sides of the soda-tax debate.

The city of Santa Fe’s campaign finance board on Monday reprimanded the Albuquerque-based libertarian Rio Grande Foundation for failing to file financial disclosure statements about an online video that was critical of the soda tax proposal and related publicity.


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