Ventura proposes extending state sales tax to campus food

Maggie Hessel-Mial

From the unfamiliar surroundings to the rising costs of tuition, incoming freshmen already have a lot to worry about when they step on campus each fall.

Students statewide might feel their pocketbooks lighten even more if the Legislature passes the governor’s proposed sales tax on all food sold on college campuses.

In an attempt to find additional funds to supplement the $1.95
billion state deficit, Gov. Jesse Ventura has suggested an additional 6.5 percent sales tax on University food – including food served in the residence halls and sold at campus coffee shops and restaurants.

This could mean up to $150 more – on top of the rising costs of school and room and board – for the 5,346 students who live in residential housing. For those who buy coffee or a sandwich at campus shops, it might mean an extra few dollars over the year.

“Any meals served at colleges and universities aren’t taxed,” said John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman. “Even fast food sold on campus doesn’t have to be taxed. This doesn’t seem like a fair exemption.”

It is unclear what the outcome of Ventura’s suggestion will be, but many legislators said they are not interested in raising revenues by raising taxes at the University or in the state as a whole.

“We want to achieve a budget balance without raising taxes,” said Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, R-Rochester. “This is not being looked at favorably in either body at this time.”

Many students say they find the cost of meals in the residence halls to be a major burden.

Students who live in the residence halls must buy a meal plan from University Dining Services at a cost of, on average, $1,000 per semester.

“We already have to pay so much for tuition, and we don’t see where the money goes anyway,” said Amy Stahl, a College of Liberal Arts freshman.

Amy Brunn, CLA freshman, said the amount she pays for food already seems overwhelming.

“I wouldn’t spend $1,300 on food a semester if I lived on my own, so why should I have to pay more now?” Brunn said.

Adam Shreve currently lives in University Village – where meal plans are not required – but said he bought one because it’s convenient for him to be able to stop for lunch between classes. But he said he might not purchase the plan if it meant he had to pay an additional $100.

“If they’re going to raise the price, I’m better off at McDonald’s or Chipotle,” Shreve said. “I’d spend the same amount of money.”

Larry Weger, regional director for UDS, said he has concerns for the students this tax might touch if put into law.

“I empathize with the students,” Weger said. “I am concerned the tax might affect them.”

Along with University food taxes, Ventura has also proposed additional state sales taxes on gasoline, cigarettes and food at state correctional facilities.

Until legislators and the governor can come up with final plans on where to find revenue to fix the deficit, students and legislators can only speculate on whether these taxes will come into fruition.

“Finding places to get additional funds from is not fun,” Wodele said. “I wouldn’t say this is a good place, but it’s a place. If we didn’t have to do this, we wouldn’t.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the state Legislature and welcomes comments at [email protected]