Long, strenuous budget process needed to ensure transparency

Six-figure discussions, percentage cut suggestions, thousands of line items, excel worksheet navigation challenges and the scramble to ensure all the paperwork is done on time (and correctly of course) can only mean one thing: it’s budget season.

Hopefully you’ve been keeping up on the state of the institutions finances, but if you haven’t, all you need to know is the economy sucks—although it’s getting better. Our student fees have been raised to combat shortfalls and support our beloved institution as it continues to grow and prosper. Fortunately, as students, we have rights to a portion of the fees imposed on us (a $118 per semester Student Activity Fee or SAF), and thus, the privilege to distribute the revenue from the SAF, about $4.3 million, in SGA legislative bills and through annual budgets.

SGA is very often known for its lengthy Tuesday meetings. The lesser known portion of SGA finances—although it is the portion through which a large majority of the funding is allocated—is the budget process. Every year, budget requests are due to SGA in October; budgets are then reviewed through the Joint Finance Committee in conjunction with student organizations and recommended to both the Graduate Student Senate and Undergraduate House of Representatives in March. After much discussion, these bodies will pass the final budget for the following fiscal year (in this case FY11) in April.

This year I have been fortunate enough to serve as the Joint Finance Committee Chairman for SGA and have worked with my committee, and the talented SGA accountant, to guarantee a positive SGA budget season. The budget process is always surrounded by a good deal of controversy; my primary goals going into this year were to make rational, business decisions in allocating funding. Transparency throughout the entire process is key.

For those unfamiliar with the Tier system, it is a method of grouping various campus organizations. Tier I is the CRC and Student center. They have first priority to the Student Activity Fee. Tier II are organizations like Student Publications, WREK, IFC, SGA—basically organizations that impact large numbers of students. Tier III organizations consist mostly of the culture clubs.

Over winter break, a schedule was sent out to all the organizations through the Student Involvement Office concerning when budget hearings with the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) would take place. Unfortunately, due to organizations experiencing officer turnover at the end of the fall, some organizations never knew that the meetings were taking place. Keeping this in mind, we are being forgiving this year, but there is potential that next year organizations will receive penalties for not appearing at budget meetings. So as an officer of your organization now, make it a priority to make that officer transition as smooth as possible at the end of the fall.

That being said, the meetings we have held with organizations were very positive. Everyone seems to understand the problems we face with requests totaling $5.3 million while having $4.3 million in available funding. Thus, we have worked with organizations to ensure the budgets not only conform to policy, but work as a business to make agreeable cuts.

Looking forward, I will be sitting in front of a computer, probably in the library where groups have priority, inputting the recommendations of my committee. The Graduate Student Senate will work diligently in a one night special session to review this 5000 line item budget, while the Undergraduate House of Representatives will work over a few weeks to do the same thing. It is important that we all, in SGA, continue to use best business practices when given responsibility over these funds. Finally, remember to make sure you let the new officers and key members of your organizations know about your FY 2011-12 budgets this coming fall—the more you know about the process, the simpler it becomes. I am always willing to work with you and answer questions you may have. Here’s to passing an equitable, transparent budget!