With all the recent noise about next year’s Student Government Association (SGA) budget, a lot of questions have been raised about the process through which students and organizations get their funding. Odds are, with the exception of student organization leaders and members of SGA, many students aren’t entirely sure how SGA decides how to fund student activities.
This past Friday, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Austin Rahn, fourth-year INTA and vice president of finance for SGA, to ask how financial requests are handled within SGA. According to Rahn, the majority of requests for funding go through the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), a group made up of the vice president of finances, the graduate and undergraduate treasurers for SGA and up to seven other students.
“The Joint Finance Committee is the committee that meets with all individuals who go to receive funds from the SGAâ€”whether in the budget or in billsâ€”and we interview them [to] find out what exactly they’re requesting the money for,” Rahn said.
That’s not to say that the JFC has the final say in matters of finances, however. Ultimately, the decisions lie with the Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR) and the Graduate Student Senate (GSS).
The role of the JFC is to “ascertain the details of [a] request, then apply the JFC policy that has been laid out by the House and Senate to those bills, and then make a recommendation to the House and Senate on whether to fund the item or not,” Rahn said.
Copies of this policy, as well as several other documents pertaining to funding requests, are on the JFC’s page of SGA’s website. The policy lays out details on dozens of different topics, from maximum allocations for different funds, to different policies for different tiers and types of organizations, to funds that are expressly forbidden.
After the JFC makes these recommendations, the House and Senate then each pass their own version of what they think the budget should be. SGA’s Conference Committee then meets to reconcile the differences between these budgets.
After, the only remaining course of action is to send the finalized budget to the House and Senate for a vote on whether the budget should be passed as is.
As for the controversy over the Blueprint’s funding, Rahn says that he can’t comment yet, but that nothing is set in stone.
“My take is: we’re not finished with the budget. Everyone who’s pro-Blueprint hit the panic button when it really wasn’t necessary,” Rahn said.
“I’m not commenting on any [individual line items] until we’re finished with the budget. I’m just uncomfortable commenting on a process that’s not finished yet. Please give SGA the benefit of the doubt, we’re working very hard. We’re trying to fit $5.3 million of budget requests into $4.3 million of money that we’re actually going to get,” Rahn said.
The budget is not, however, a catch-all for funding requests. Funding for food and capital expendituresâ€”those intended to fund something that will last longer than three yearsâ€”as well as for first-time events are among the items not covered in budgets and instead must be obtained through submitting a bill to SGA.
“Budgets are designed to keep the organizations running and cover their core expenses, so we don’t have to deal with those during the year. They’re designed, too, to help the student life to function,” Rahn said.
What bills can fund, on the other hand, is less strictly defined.
“With bills, anything goes. There is a policy, but any one student could submit a bill for a student activity,” Rahn said.
Bills can be used to fund a variety of things, from first-time student events to new equipment.
Typically, SGA tends to look more favorably on funding requests where organizations show they are seeking additional methods of funding as well.
A recent example of this is the GT Rowing Team, which received a fairly large sum of funding last week for a new rowing shell to replace one lost in an accident. The bill requesting these funds received an overwhelming amount of support due, in part, to the fact that the team had explored other alternatives of obtaining funding.