Food tax’s excise good for New Mexico

Ned Cantwell

It took just over 70 years to get rid of it.
Since New Mexico enacted the law, there has been a World War, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam imbroglio.
The year the New Mexico Legislature first imposed this on her citizens, television was a hazy concept, remote control not yet even a fantasy.
The rage that year was Sally Rand’s fan dance, hit of Chicago’s World Fair. And she didn’t even flash a breast.
We’re talking about the food tax. Arthur Seligman was the governor who signed it into law. Seventeen different governors served at various times since then. The current one, Bill Richardson, got it abolished.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, back in 1933. That’s when the state, and country, was reeling from the Great Depression. Just a little boost for the state coffers, was the theory. Trouble is, taxation is the opium of the elected class. The Depression ended, but over the years, the tax, a bad idea to start with, more than doubled.
Taxing food is never smart. Most of the nation figured that out long before we did. Now that New Mexico came to her senses, just seven states still levy a food tax.
The tax is regressive. The single mom of two struggling to make ends meet pays the same tax as the guy driving the Lexus. Makes no sense.
This is a tough one for right wingers. On the one hand, they have to applaud getting rid of any tax. On the other, this idea of giving a break to the poor chafes their hide.
The theory says that if you extend help to the poor they just sit around waiting for more handouts. Forget the fact most of the 35 million poor in this country work, but still suffer the indignities of not being able to provide adequately for their families.
Getting rid of the food tax in New Mexico helps all of us, but it is more meaningful to the impoverished. There is the argument that eliminating the food tax by raising the tax on other goods actually hurts those on food stamps because they do not pay for food and now will have to pay more tax on other stuff.
That one does not hold up under scrutiny. Fred Nathan, whose Think New Mexico for many years has been in the front lines of the battle to get rid of the food tax, makes the following argument:
The food stamp program is a supplement, not a substitute, for a family’s food budget. According to the USDA Food Stamp Program, the average monthly benefit per person in our state is about $75 a month, or about $2.50 a day. “Try feeding yourself on that,” Nathan challenges.
The other rather startling fact about food stamps is that roughly half of the people in New Mexico who are eligible to receive the federal benefit actually get food stamp assistance. We need to close that gap.
In the meantime, score one for Gov. Bill Richardson who called the play and House Speaker Ben Lujan who did the heavy lifting to get the food tax abolished.
New Mexico is actually starting to look a little smart, except we still allow cockfighting.

Ned Cantwell is a syndicated columnist living in Ruidoso. He welcomes response at: