Over the past two weeks both the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) and the Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR) have been meeting late into the night to discuss and ultimately approve the Student Activity Fee budget that the two bodies jointly allocate every year. The budget has yet to be voted on in UHR, and the versions passed by both bodies will be reconciled in a conference committee.
According to a presentation made by Joint Finance Committee (JFC) Chair Matt Cauble to UHR, the most up-to-date projection given by the Tech Budget Office would allocate $4.557 million to SGA for the annual budget, a “pretty conservative projection” Cauble said.
In addition, the $4.557 million figure does not include the five-dollar increase to the student activity fee (SAF) recently approved by the Mandatory Student Fee Advisory Committee. The increase, which would go into effect in the summer if approved by the Board of Regents as a three-dollar increase, would raise the fall student activity fee to $123 per student. According to the Fee request made by the Budget Office to the Board of Regents (BoR) on Feb. 16, the total funds with the fee increase would be $4.753 million.
According to the proposal, “Student organizations have also been impacted by the recession. In some instances, student organizations were able to compensate for the economic downturn (and resulting harder fundraising climate) with assistance from academic departments. However, with state budget cuts, student organizations have shown an increased need for financial support from SGA…”
The two bodies have responded to the potential fee increase differently. GSS entered their budgetary procedures assuming that the increase would pass, and allocated a larger, $4.5 million budget.
“The Board of Regents almost always votes on fee increases after SGA approves the Student Activity Fee budget. SGA has always adopted a budget assuming the Regents will approve the proposed fee increase. About five years ago, the Regents suggested that most fee increases would be denied, but SGA still requested a double-digit fee increase. That increase was approved. I also believe allocating a $4.5 million budget sends a message to the Regents that the $5 fee increase is essential.,” said GSS member Mitch Keller.
In contrast, members of UHR expressed concerns at their March 16 meeting that allocating a budget larger than the current fee would allow could result in severe hardships in the fall if SGA members are forced to go through and cut money from the previously approved budget. UHR instead initially chose to allocate a budget that initial aimed for a $4.3 million target. However, the newer projections of $4.5 without the fee increase did moderate the calls for fiscal conservativism during UHR’s second week of budget debates on March 30.
“The numbers we have before us assume a decrease in enrollment from now, so we are assuming worst-case scenario. 4.4 million might be a good compromise between 4.3 and 4.5, so I would endorse a 4.4 million budget target,” said UHR representative Adam Weiss on March 30.
While some drastic cuts were proposed during the budget debates, many failed to gain traction. One such amendment was proposed to reduce the number of funded tournaments for Tier III competitive clubs to three tournaments a year, down from the current five tournaments funded. This amendment, which would have cut funding from over thirty organizations, failed the house.
There were several large amendments that passed both bodies. One large budgetary increase was to add in the salary of SGA accountant Ninh Tran, which was added to the Undergraduate Student Government budget. The salaried position has been funded in the past and was left off the initial budget submission due to error.
Tier I organizations, namely the Campus Recreation Center and the Student Center, saw no amendments to the budgets proposed by JFC. These two organizations comprise $2.98 million of the total SAF budget.
Tier II organizations were cut approximately $110,000 below the initial JFC version of the budget. Some were large program eliminations, like the decision to end the USA Today newspaper program, which was eliminated in amendments in both bodies to save $10,000 and the elimination of funding for the Interfraternity Council’s National Benchmarking Survey, which both bodies eliminated to save $3,000. Other amendments reduced the funds allocated for certain line items, such as the pay to DramaTech Theater Technical Directors, which was reduced from $3,000 to $1,500 for each production.
Tier III organizations were cut as well, usually in sweeping amendments that altered the budgets of multiple organizations in order to avoid bias. All organizations lost funding for Blueprint group photos and pages, as well as intramural participation costs. Organizations also lost Ballroom Usage fees, saving $5,660.
While some organizations have felt the pinch of the tight budget planning, the discussion has been largely cordial. “In a tight budget season, we understand the cuts that SGA made to our budget request. I am confident that as SGA continues to investigate the benefit that IFC provides to the campus, we will see more of the Student Activity Fee proportionally allocated to us because of our large constituency and broad campus impact,” said IFC president Ashby Foltz.
Although the budget has not yet passed UHR, it will likely be passed in the next two weeks, and following conference committee, both bodies will vote on an identical final budget.