Roundhouse Brief: Why We Oppose the Food Tax

Every picture tells a story. Three compelling graphics tell you why the food tax being advanced by some fiscal conservatives absolutely must not pass. We haven’t made a MUST KILL bill list, but as we do so, this will certainly be near the top of the list. Read on to discover why. We also update you on the continued Dem. Party Centrist efforts to undermine the Green New Deal.

Green New Deal Update:  Centrists Continue to Dismiss It. I think we can expect an ongoing communication strategy from Democratic Centrists designed to subtly and not so subtly undermine both the messenger, e.g. Rep-election Ocasio Cortez and the message, economic, social, and climate justice, e.g. the Green New Deal. The drone will become a mainstream media theme designed to discourage voters from embracing new ideas and those who advocate for them. In the most recent instance, Sen. McCaskill a centrist who was ousted from Missouri in the midterms, commented on Ocasio-Cortez  “I’m a little confused why she’s the thing. But it’s a good example of what I’m talking about, a bright shiny new object, came out of nowhere and surprised people when she beat a very experienced congressman.”  The subtext is clear: she’s young, flashy and has a lot to learn, i.e. keep quiet and let the ‘experienced’ congressmen/women teach you a thing or two.

McCaskill went on to add: “I hope she also realizes that the parts of the country that are rejecting the Democratic Party, like a whole lot of white working class voters, need to hear about how their work is going to be respected, and the dignity of their jobs, and how we can really stick to issues that we can actually accomplish something on.” So the defeated centrist with no ideas has something to teach the young, victorious leader who is advancing the best initiative out of Washington in ten years. In describing somewhat condescendingly that Ocasio Cortez should stick to the issues that actually accomplish something she is revealing that at least she doesn’t view saving our planet and putting 10 million people to work to develop a green infrastructure as accomplishing much.

We will continue to face these kinds of messages until we are able to press our representatives to take the same step Deb Haaland has taken: publicly endorse the Green New Deal. For a brief description of the goals of the Green New Deal and an excellent 3-minute video, click here. For another post describing the broad, deep support for the Green New Deal (even among the GOP), click here. Both posts include contact info for Udall, Heinrich and Lujan. If you haven’t written and called them yet, make a point of doing so this week.

Sunday, Dec. 30, 11am. Journey, at Collected Works, 202 Galisteo, Santa Fe with Paul Gibson, Co-Founder, Retake Our Democracy. Journey was going to skip the 30th this year, but then asked if I’d consider doing a Retake Our Democracy Roundhouse Preview. Of course, I accepted. I will spend about 30 minutes laying out our strategy for the Roundhouse session, sharing our MUST PASS bills, and then spend time answering questions and encouraging dialog. I expect it will be a modest crowd what with the holidays consuming our attention, so I think we can have a pretty informal conversation. This might be an opportunity for you to ask 2-3 friends to join you and enable them to learn more about Retake Our Democracy and our Roundhouse strategy. I’ll also talk a bit about the Green New Deal and encourage those attending to write to their representatives. So, please come to Journey this Sunday.

Food Tax: The Perfect Tax for the Oligarchy.  Tax the One Thing the Poor Can’t Live Without

Twenty-six percent of NM children go to bed hungry, the highest rate of childhood food insecurity in the Nation. To be clear, that is 125,000 New Mexico children. Imagine putting your child to bed at night crying in hunger, knowing the cupboards are bare and so is the wallet. That happens every night throughout NM. And so it is almost inconceivable that some moderate and conservative New Mexican legislators feel that the best way to bolster our state revenues would be to tax those least able to afford it.

The table at right from NM Voices for Children, illustrates just how regressive a food tax is. While our poorest New Mexicans spend 22% of their income on food, even middle income people spend only 8% of their income on food and those at the top, but 4%. If you have 25% of New Mexican children living without adequate food and then you make food even more costly for those families, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the impact.

The obvious question might be: if we need to raise revenues to increase funding for schools, to develop infrastructure, to invest in our future and we were actually trying to be fair, why not look to tax things that only rich people buy?

  • Stocks, investments and capital gains on those investments
  • Expensive luxury cars
  • Second homes and luxury homes
  • Expensive art
  • High-end hotel stays

Why is it so easy to reach for a food tax instead of the more progressive options above?  Could it be with who makes contributions to our legislators and who walks the aisles of the Roundhouse with misleading fact sheets about how taxing investments will kill growth in NM?

If you are wondering just how hard it is for poor New Mexicans to feed their children, check out this second graphic, again from NM Voices for Children. This chart depicts the kinds of decisions poor working families must make on a daily basis while those wealthy New Mexicans on the right of the first table above must decide whether to fly to Florida or Palm Springs for New Years. Different choices. And the impact of the choices that poor families must make have telling ramifications on the futures of their children.

  • Choosing low-cost, high sugar, high fat but less expensive foods may stretch the dollar, but it also is a major contributor toward childhood obesity, diabetes and hypertension, costs to be paid later by the children and our state in treating these chronic conditions;
  • Delaying medical care for the parents or the children, in either case always a decision that has consequences later both in terms of health outcomes and costs.
  • Delaying rent or utility payments pile up until they must be paid, a condition that too often leads working families to turn to predatory lendors, a topic for a post later this week.

In short, we put poor working families in an impossible situation with false choices that have negative consequences no matter what choice is made and then some legislator comes up with the idea that maybe we could just add a few percent to the cost of food. I am sure they’ll come up with some disingenuous mathematical formula that suggests that “the average family will pay but $40 a month to generate $250M a year for the state” knowing full well that the larger share will fall on those least able to pay.

There is a reason that this kind of tax policy is not popular nationally, especially in blue or even purple states. The map at left shows that only Alabama and Mississippi tax food at the same rate as other merchandise and the other states that either allow local jurisdictions to tax food (yellow) or that tax food at a different rate than other merchandise (light orange). These are not states we hold as beacons of social or economic justice. New Mexico can do better.  And apparently the vast majority of New Mexicans agree.

A recent poll of 804 New Mexicans who are likely voters in the 2020 election shows that 87 percent oppose reinstating the tax on food, with 74 percent of all respondents strongly opposing the idea. The poll, which was conducted by national pollster Benenson Strategy Group, indicates that opposition to the food tax is on the rise. A similar poll, conducted in 2015 by Third Eye Strategies, found that 80 percent opposed a tax on food, with 60 percent strongly opposing. “People understand that a tax on food hurts working families and their children,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which commissioned the poll. “New Mexicans believe their leaders should be fighting hunger, not making it worse.”

Despite all of the above, reinstating the gross receipts tax (GRT) on food has been the subject of discussion at recent interim committee meetings, with several lawmakers stating their support for the idea as part of an overall reform that would lower the GRT rate. But opposition to a food tax remained high – at 80 percent – when pollsters asked whether respondents would support a tax on food if the tax rate on other goods was lowered. So even if some of our legislators don’t get it, New Mexicans apparently do. And kudos to NM Voices for Children for developing the facts into clearly understandable terms, terms that make clear the human impact of our tax decisions. There is a reason that Reverend William Barber has stated that “a budget is a moral document.”  I’d add, or an immoral one.

More results from the poll, which was conducted December 4-9, 2018, will be shared by NM Voices in early 2019. These will include which issues likely voters want the state to address as well as support for various ways to raise revenue. Retake will certainly report on these findings as soon as they are released.

In the meantime, know that our Roundhouse Advocacy Team will be sending out Action Alerts on all our MUST PASS and MUST KILL bills and that even during the holidays teams of Roundhouse advocates are busily building support throughout the state and analyzing bills as they are pre-filed. Very soon you will be able to sign up to be part of the Statewide Roundhouse Rapid Response Network and as soon as our new website and communication system is fully ready, we will be asking you not only to sign up, but to reach out to others. We want to make the 2019 Legislative Session one that people look back on for decades as the year of the New Mexico Pivot.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne



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5 replies

  1. The food tax illustrates everything that is wrong in this state. Every year they reanimate it, and our local media discuses it as if it were legitimate. A misinformed and under informed public, allows this discussion. The media did not cover the excessive tax breaks, subsidies, and give aways to the wealthy, as new Mexico slid to the bottom. The food tax debacle is just the red herring they drag out in order to mislead the public, and distract from facts.
    The wealthy and our corporations just got one of the biggest tax breaks ever, and these are leading to under-funding and cuts in the future. These tax breaks will have to be made up at the state level. Local media has been silent on the effects of the massive tax cuts, and how they will effect the state. Most people have no idea how, programs like SS, Medicare, and Medicaid, HUD, and other programs effect the states coffers. The only thing that is advertised, here is the tourism, real estate, and extraction industries, the subsidies, incentives, and real costs are never discussed.

    The food tax is regressive and the idea should be shut down, ridiculed and anyone bringing it up should have their motives examined. The topic did not spring organically from some kind of innovative thinking. It is a strategy by corporate interests to distract, and sideline any kind of fact based reasonable discussion. it shows that we need to scrutinize corporate ties, and the incredible corruption, that has been normalized here.

  2. As per this article, I shared my opposition (via emails) to any reinstatement of the food tax with both Senator Peter Wirth and Representative Andrea Romero. Wirth responded (in part): “While New Mexico’s gross receipts tax is unique, there are lots of other places to fix before reinstating the tax on food.”

    Rep. Romero’s response (in part): “I assure you, I am against the food tax as well. As you well know, there are many other ways to stabilize revenues without regressive taxes such as the food tax. I will oppose any legislation that suggests this.” Both said they were grateful for my input.

    I would encourage readers of this newsletter to directly contact state senators and representatives if they haven’t already done so on this issue. I get the sense that we should not just hope for the best because so many Democrats got elected this year.

    Thank you both, Paul and Roxanne, for your updates. They are incredibly useful in keeping us all informed.

    • Hi Richard,

      Thanks for the kind words. I tried to reply to this once but it didn’t seem to take. What you did with the blog in contacting Romero and Wirth is precisely what Retake is organizing its Roundhouse strategy around. We have MUST PASS and MUST KILL bills that will be coming to committees where the votes will pass, table or kill bills. This is how good bills die, quietly without notice, in committee. Retake will have volunteers in every committee hearing where we have bills pending. We are almost done building an alert system that will enable me to send anyone signed up a very brief action alert any time one of our bills is going to a committee where their elected rep (senator or house) sits on the committee. The alert will include bill #, title, a 4 sentence summary, speaking/writing points @ why the bill is good for NM and contact info.

      It has taken months to develop this communication infrastructure, but once it is done it will be your job and the job of everyone else to contact all of their friends—especially those outside NM–and strongly encourage them to sign up. We can have a robust and finely focused alert system that channels informed communication to constituents of every Democrat in the State. But for that system to achieve its maximum impact, we need people like you to invest an hour or two to get the word out. Watch for the blog…when we are ready we will send out a notice with language to use, the link and a good description of both what is at stake and how easy it is to be engaged.

      Thanks again, Richard.

  3. You mentioned that wealthy interests have lobbyists to push bills such as this regressive tax, and that is why any such regressive measure gains traction.
    Another reason is that middle- and low-income people are too damn BUSY making a living to take the time to lobby. Our voices are not heard because we don’t have the means to lobby the elected and appointed people who make decisions.


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