Sun-News Reports, Silver City Sun-News
March 16, 2017

SANTA FE — The Tax and Revenue Committee in the New Mexico House of Representatives today defeated legislation by a vote of 9 to 5 that would have provided public schools a needed funding increase of $89 million per year by increasing the state’s cigarette tax by $1.50.

SB 231, sponsored by Senator Howie Morales of Silver City, would have directed the new revenues to strengthen New Mexico’s K-12 classrooms. Those funds are needed to prevent looming cuts of 5% to 7% across the board to classrooms and higher education institutions if no new revenues are enacted. Two Democrats on the panel voted with Republicans to table the measure, which is now effectively dead for the session.

“It is disappointing that the committee rejected investments in our schools and children, and in improvements to the health of New Mexicans,” Sen. Morales said. “Anytime we invest in education, it is good policy. After numerous funding cuts, our classrooms need the money that a cigarette tax boost would bring. If we care about children as much as we say we do, we must take action to help schools’ bottom line. That is what SB 231 would have done.”

SB 231 would have increased the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50, with an equivalent increase in other tobacco products including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The tax on a pack of cigarettes would increase from $1.66 to $3.16, generating $89 million annually. The bill’s proceeds would have been shared equally through the state equalization (SEG) formula with all New Mexico’s Kindergarten – 12 public schools.

Supporters said the funds are necessary to backfill deep funding cuts to New Mexico’s public schools during recent years. Without an infusion of new revenues, schools may see cuts of 5% to 7% across the board, according to the Senate Finance Committee. Possible results include larger class sizes; fewer teachers; fewer counselors; reduced classes in physical education, music, dance and art; school closings; cuts to all-day kindergarten and summer classes, and even school weeks being reduced to four days.

“SB 231 would have saved the state millions spent on health care needs caused by smoking,” Sen. Morales said. “It would have kept more than 11,000 kids from smoking, and helped thousands of adults quit. This was a missed opportunity.”

Lobbyists for the tobacco industry – Reynolds and Atria (Phillip Morris) – were the principal opponents of the bill.

At the hearing, SB 231 was endorsed by all the state’s education advocates and all the leading health organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association, The NM School Superintendents’ Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, AFSCME, NM Voices for Children, the National Association of Social Workers, NM Nurses Association, Center for Civic Policy, NM Allied Council on Tobacco, Chronic Disease Prevention Council, NM Center on Law and Poverty, March of Dimes, NM Breastfeeding Taskforce, NM Federation of Labor, the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and citizens speaking for themselves. School district superintendents from Santa Fe, Artesia, and Edgewood/Moriarty also attended the hearing and spoke in favor of SB 231.

Copyright 2017, Silver City Sun-News