by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal
December 20, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. — Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester on Tuesday was joined by a number of advocates for children and families to denounce attempts by some state legislators to reinstate the food tax.

“Our neighbors are hungry,” he told a group at the Catholic Center in Albuquerque. “At this time as we prepare for Christmas, countless nonprofits and civic organizations work to fill food baskets, but some legislators want to take food out of another basket, the grocery basket with their proposed food tax.”

Wester pointed to recent discussions in legislative interim hearings in which the reinstatement of the food tax has been suggested as a way to raise revenue for the state, which is experiencing a deficit because gas and oil revenues have plummeted.

“This ‘tortilla tax,’ as many have labeled it, only shifts the burden onto the poor and working families,” Wester said. “What makes this idea even more obscene is that New Mexico ranks second-highest in the nation for children living in hunger and … highest for children living in poverty.”

He further noted that 82 percent of births in New Mexico last year were to families who were Medicaid eligible.

“New Mexico has already been down this debate path before when we repealed the food tax in 2004,” Wester said. Another attempt to pass it in 2010 was vetoed, “and rightly so. I call on all New Mexicans to oppose the reinstatement of the food tax.”

Beyond the food tax issue at the state level, there is concern about cutbacks at the federal level to social safety net programs, including SNAP, said James Jimenez, executive of New Mexico Voices for Children, an organization that advocates on behalf of children and families.

SNAP, an acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is just that – supplemental – and not intended to provide all the meals a family needs for a month, he said. They still have to purchase food, and taxing that food means they will be able to purchase less of it, and will have to cut back in other areas.

A quarter of New Mexicans who are poor enough to receive SNAP benefits are not receiving them, and most recipients use 80 percent of their SNAP benefits in the first half of the month, Jimenez said. “It is misguided and harmful to families, and in a state with such a high food insecurity rate, making food more expensive is just plain wrong,” Jimenez said. “There are better ways for our state government to find money.”

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, is among legislators spearheading the drive to reinstate the food tax. His proposal, not yet formally introduced, would exempt SNAP recipients and would provide reductions to gross receipts taxes levied on sales and services.

“In isolation, as a stand-alone piece of legislation, I would be opposed to the food tax as well,” Harper told the Journal. “But as part of a comprehensive package that includes fixes to a tax code that is strangling small businesses, it will ultimately reduce the tax burden of the great majority of New Mexicans.”

Gov. Susana Martinez has opposed reinstating the food tax.

Copyright 2016, Albuquerque Journal