Soda tax causes change at cafeteria

Prices increase in all beverages added with sugar or sweeteners

Lars Lonnroth, Assistant News Editor

Even as the Cook County beverage tax remains mired in legal limbo—with a lawsuit by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association claiming it violates Illinois’ constitution—the tax is still in effect. Now that school is in session, LT and other schools have had to decide how to approach the highly-controversial tax on drinks sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners.

“We have looked at the beverages we serve at the cafeteria and we raised some of those prices to kind-of offset some of the cost related to that tax,” Brian Stachacz, director of business service at LT, said.

The tax, which first went first into effect on Aug. 1 after legal challenges delayed its implementation by one month, adds a penny-per-ounce to applicable drinks in hopes of raising funds needed to operate, Cook County officials claim.

At LT, soda is sold mainly in the cafeteria and in vending machines that are strewn across both campuses. As a result of the tax, prices for drinks taxed increased at the cafeteria. However, the district decided to maintain the prices at vending machines until they have a better idea of how it will impact sales, Stachacz said.

“We really don’t have a good gauge on [whether the increase will impact sales],” he said.  “As we get through the first month … we will have a better idea at the point.”

While the school still doesn’t know if there has been an impact, down at the cafeteria, staffers say that they have seen the speed at which soda is sold decreasing.

Marcy Lingo, manager at the LT cafeteria said that they have seen consumers make substantial adjustments as a result of the tax hike. Lingo is not employed by LT, but is employed by the company contracted to operate the cafeteria on behalf to the district, Sodexo.

“Lots of water going out now. Lots, and lots and lots of water going out,” Lingo said. “The soda is still going, but just not as fast. But the water is going like crazy.”

LT sells around $78,000 worth of soda each year, according to Statchez, and the penny-per-ounce tax will increases the price for the district quite substantially.

When the soda is purchased, the tax is paid when buying the applicable drinks from the distributor and then it is the purchaser’s prerogative regarding whether they want to increase prices, Stachacz said.

As the school year continues, they will be deciding whether or not the prices will need to be adjusted in vending machines as a result of the tax. In the deliberations, Stachacz emphasized that their behind-the-scenes calculus is different than that of a restaurant because the goal isn’t profit.

“A school food service is not designed to be a profit machine—it is designed to provide lunch and meals for students at an extremely, we hope, reasonable cost,” Statchez said. “We’re simply trying to offset the cost of our food service.”