City beverage tax = meal plan hike for Temple students

A room at Mitchell and Hillary Morgan Hall, a high rise luxury dormitory at Temple University.

What's the cost of the city's new sweetened-beverage tax at Temple University per semester?

$400,000.

And students are going to feel it.

Board rates will rise an additional 4.8 percent for 2017-18 solely because of the 1.5-cent-per-ounce sweetened-beverage tax, which went into effect this year, the university said. The tax was enacted to help fund parks, recreation centers, and early childhood education. Heated debate over it continues, with PepsiCo having announced planned layoffs and retailers reporting steep losses.

The total impact of the new tax is estimated to be $400,000 per semester, said Ken Kaiser, Temple's chief financial officer. The university will roll back the board increase if the tax is repealed, he said.

"This is another example of the damaging impact this tax is having on Philadelphia families," said Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for Ax the Philly Bev Tax Coalition, made up of a number of Philadelphia businesses and residents, many of them involved in the soda industry. "It’s ironic that a tax the mayor sold on the basis of expanding educational access is now going to be making higher ed less affordable for students."

But the office of Mayor Kenney, who fought for the tax as a way to fund needed preschool programs, questioned the direct tie to the meal plan increase.

"The beverage tax is becoming a popular scapegoat for unpopular decisions," said spokeswoman Lauren Hitt. "Universities across the country have been raising meal-plan fees because families are increasingly chafing at tuition increases, and universities still want to pay for their ever-growing administrative salaries and new, expensive buildings and amenities.

"Temple's own administration staff has grown by 40 percent in recent years; they are planning to build a multimillion-dollar stadium; their new 24-story dorm includes flat screen TVs; and, sure enough, they have a history of raising their meal-plan fees to cover those costs - by 2.5 percent in 2015 and 4.3 percent in 2014."

In addition to the increase due to the beverage tax, rates for board will rise an additional 1.6 percent to cover contractual obligations, Temple said. That means students will face an increase greater than 6 percent for board.

A minimum meal plan will cost $1,444 next semester including the increased costs.

The board rate was approved Tuesday afternoon by Temple’s trustees, who conducted their meeting by phone because of the inclement weather. Temple’s board also approved a 2.9 percent increase in room rates for 2017-18.

A basic double-occupancy room in Johnson and Hardwick residence halls, with a minimum meal plan, will cost $10,940 for the year. A four-person suite in the more deluxe Morgan Hall with a minimum meal plan will rise to $14,452, university officials said.

Tuition and fees for 2017-18 will be set in the spring.