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Amid soda-tax dispute, an Easter egg hunt collaboration

April 16, 2017 GMT

The political battle over the city’s proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to fund an expansion of early childhood education has created a division in the community, with proponents touting the benefits of prekindergarten and casting support for the measure as a moral issue, and opponents saying there are better ways to fund such programs for kids than a tax that would place the heaviest burden on those who can least afford it.

On Saturday morning, however, the two key players in the soda-tax fight — Coca-Cola and the city of Santa Fe — put aside their differences and jointly sponsored an Easter egg hunt at the Municipal Recreation Complex, an event that was all about children, sugar and fun.

“I guess you can call it a truce,” said Norman Vigil, whose two grandchildren, ages 7 and 10, participated in the event.

The city’s annual egg hunt, on a warm, breezy Saturday morning with clear skies, drew hundreds of children ages 1 to 10 to the recreation complex’s softball fields, where they waited anxiously for the competition to begin.

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To level the playing field, children were divided into different age groups.

At 11:30 a.m. sharp, kids rushed toward the center of each field, determined to gather as many of the more than 12,000 candy-filled, plastic eggs as possible.

For many kids, the main goal of the hunt was to find a golden egg, which came with a special prize: a basket filled with toys and sugar-laden edibles. Organizers had scattered a score of these treats around the fields.

The hunt was over in about five minutes flat, and the competitors all appeared happy with their loot.

Paulette Keeney, who had watched her 5-year-old granddaughter hunt for eggs, said the girl had picked up yellow-colored plastic eggs, confusing them with the golden ones.

But the mistake didn’t put a damper on the day.

“I was just thinking how great this is for the kids,” said Keeney, who has lived in Santa Fe for 20 years. “Because there’s not a lot of things for kids to do in Santa Fe.”

“It’s good for the kids,” agreed Ronald Gallegos, a state employee, as he watched his two sons and daughter from the bleachers. “It also gets people out and mingling.”

But Gallegos said he’s concerned that if the sugary-beverage tax is approved by Santa Fe voters, Coca-Cola might not continue to sponsor community events such as Saturday’s egg hunt.

The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Santa Fe and other businesses have said the tax would hurt their bottom line, and could lead to layoffs.

Mayor Javier Gonzales has proposed a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks, which he says could generate about $7.7 million annually to fund pre-K for more than 1,000 kids who are not currently enrolled in such programs.

The tax will go before city voters during a special municipal election May 2.

Contact Uriel Garcia at 505-986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.