Former Gov. Apodaca joins soda tax opponents

April 28, 2017 GMT

The political action committee working to defeat Mayor Javier Gonzales’ proposed tax on sugary beverages has recruited former New Mexico Gov. Jerry Apodaca to campaign against the proposal.

“I just don’t think it’s necessary,” Apodaca, 82, said in a brief telephone interview Thursday.

In a tweet, Gonzales wrote, “Different voices and opposing views are important to any community conversation. Gov Apodaca is a great man and a gr8 leader in our state.”

City voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to pay for nearly 1,000 3- and 4-year-olds to attend preschool. The proposed tax on distributors, who are expected to pass some if not most of the tax onto consumers, would generate about $7.7 million annually, according to Gonzales’ camp.

Apodaca, who was governor from 1975-79, lives in Santa Fe but doesn’t normally inject himself into municipal politics. He issued a statement against the proposed tax Thursday morning.

“I’ve been around government almost my entire adult life and I’ve learned that you prioritize issues such as pre-K in your budget,” he said. “As a policymaker, you put your money where your mouth is and you find the funds in your budget. What you never do is go back to hardworking taxpayers when you have a surplus. That is irresponsible.”

An anti-tax group has continually advocated that the “better way” to fund pre-K is through the city’s surplus revenue, an assertion that proponents, including the mayor and members of the city Finance Committee, say is wrong.

“I have been troubled to read that the PAC funded by the soda industry is trying to confuse voters by suggesting that any kind of one-time surplus at the city level could be used to fund pre-K, a recurring program,” Councilor Carmichael Dominguez said in a recent statement.

“As chair of the city’s Finance Committee, I can say definitively that the city cannot use a one-time surplus to fund a recurring program. It is foolish to even suggest so and calls into question the motive of the opposition,” he wrote. “I call on the ‘Better Way’ PAC, funded by the soda industry, to stop lying to voters immediately.”

Apodaca’s support is a coup for a campaign that has been dwarfed by endorsements for the tax, including from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the editorial board of The New Mexican and the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Apodaca also recorded a campaign phone call for the Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K PAC in which he encourages voters to turn down the proposal.

“Please join me in voting against the beverage tax,” he says in the recorded message. “Santa Fe just can’t afford this massive tax on working families. It could double the cost of beverages and result in the loss of jobs.”

Sandra Wechsler, campaign manager for the political action committee working to pass the soda tax, did not directly respond to Apodaca’s involvement in the anti-tax campaign.

In a statement, she said, “The Archdiocese of Santa Fe endorsed the soda tax because the state Senate has failed to act on Pre-K. … The archdiocese says we must put our children first, and that’s exactly what the soda tax does.”

Early voting for the May 2 special election ends at 5 p.m. Friday. The two sites for casting early ballots are at City Hall, 200 Lincoln Ave., and the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, 3221 Rodeo Road.

Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or dchacon@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.