SU general budget proposal fails to pass

Curran Neenan and Julia Arbanas | Staff Reporters

A joint session of Treasury and Senate failed to approve the Student Union general budget for the first time in four years Sunday.

The SU general budget is comprised of the student activities fee, which comes from one percent of all undergraduate tuition, totaling about $3.6 million. Both SU Senate and Treasury spent Saturday and Sunday voting on their recommendations for the proposed budget. VP of Finance junior Shelly Gupta then balances the proposal with cuts of her own and presents it to the legislative bodies for their approval.

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The budget would have required two-thirds approval from both the Senate and Treasury to pass. However, neither body reached the threshold to pass the proposed budget.

There were several budget proposals that caused considerable amounts of debate among and between the legislative bodies, many involving programs and events that enjoy popular support among the undergraduate student body such as programs in collaboration with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), the Residential College Composting Program and Social Programming Board Happy Hour events.

Gupta said she welcomed the outcome, explaining that she didn’t want the body to pass a budget without consensus.

“I knew there would be some contention and I was hoping that if people didn’t agree with my recommendations they wouldn’t pass it,” Gupta said. “I’m glad that they decided not to vote it through if they didn’t agree.”

SU VP of Administration sophomore Steven Kish says the failure to agree on a budget was due to the wide variety of projects that the body wanted to fund.

“A lot of different people had different things that they were interested in funding throughout the recommendation process,” Kish said. “The culmination of that was really focused areas where people would like to see some reallocation.”

Center for Diversity and Inclusion

In the recommendation negotiations, the legislative bodies could not come to an agreement over the CDI Affinity Group Event Fund, which requested $4,000 in funding. That requested value would then be matched by the CDI. The initial recommendation was $0; the proposed amendment for a compromise in funding of $2,000 failed initially and then was amended to the main recommendation. After two tied votes on the $2,000 recommendation, the legislative bodies voted to move to the next section. This deadlock means that Gupta will take the negotiations into consideration when she balances the budget without a finite recommendation amount.

This debate revealed a significant rift in how each legislative body views their duties in advocating for undergraduate students and proper allocation of the student activities fee. Most senators argued that the CDI’s event fund should receive SU funding, but most treasury representatives insisted that the fund shouldn’t receive any money from the student activities fee.

The Affinity Group Event Fund is available to both SU-recognized and non-SU recognized student groups, even if those groups have been rejected funding from the Treasury appeals process. Freshman Treasury member Zoe Hancock argued that funding this in the general budget would provide “a way for groups to get around rules [Treasury] has to abide by.” Other members echoed that if non-SU recognized groups are using the fund, then it is not the responsibility of the general budget to fund those organizations.

Freshman senator Anne He says that funding groups controlled by Washington University employees would reduce the autonomy of SU.

“A lot of people from Treasury made some good points about how we should be counting on our elected representatives to be making the decisions about how we allocate our money,” He said. “When the student activity fees get distributed to a department like the CDI and we let them allocate that money, I think that can cause a lot of issues.”

However, some members saw this budget request as an opportunity to better advocate for underrepresented and minority groups on campus.

“We have an opportunity to fund the CDI and support people of color on this campus,” sophomore Nia Plump said.

In the past, Senate members Tyrin Truong and Nia Plump have described SU as a “hostile environment for black people” and lacking action on issues of diversity, respectively.

Additionally, the legislative bodies recommended a $7,250 allocation for the CDI’s “Witnessing Whiteness Workshop Series.” The program is a series of facilitated discussions which address white privilege and allyship on behalf of communities of color. Gupta proposed cutting its funding to $3,610.

Many Senate members argued that the Social Programming Board’s new proposal for increased funding for programs like Happy Hour could be reallocated towards CDI diversity initiatives or the Student Environmental Council’s Residential College Composting Program, which was recommended for funding by the legislative bodies and subsequently cut in the balanced budget proposal, despite its popularity.

Residential College Composting Program

The Student Environmental Council proposed a budget of $7,012.06 to fund the Residential College Composting Program throughout the next school year. Their request was a stopgap measure to keep the pilot program funded through the 2019-2020 school year due to Residential Life’s request for more statistics about the outcome of the expanded program before making a decision of whether to fund it through Residential Life’s general budget. SU funded the pilot program for the past two years through appeals for funding.

Some members expressed concern over the perceived fiscal responsibility of the program and funding the program through the general budget instead of through Residential Life or Congress of the South 40.

“In every conversation…we’ve had the understanding that this would be a one-year pilot so that way [Residential Life] would take it…this is the third year we’ve been told that it’s going to happen again as a pilot year,” VP of Public Relations senior Rory Mather said.

Other SU members disputed Mather’s and other members’ characterization, arguing that this is the first year of the expanded program and therefore should be treated as a new pilot, citing its expansion to four new Residential College Buildings.

“Something we’ve consistently heard from students…is more opportunities for composting all around campus,” Outreach Committee Chair senator sophomore Sophie Scott said. “This is a cool opportunity for SU to show support and empower the work that student groups want to do.”

The recommendation passed to fund the program in full for the 2019-2020 academic year. However, in the balanced budget proposal, the funding for the program was cut entirely, a factor raised by many legislative members as to why they would not support the balanced budget proposal.

SPB Happy Hour

Happy Hour provided other points of debate when members of both Senate and Treasury disagreed over the number of Happy Hours and whether to remove the budget for alcohol from the events. Freshman Jake Sassmannshausen was one of several legislators who said that Happy Hours were a good place to make cuts.

“We are over-budgeted, but I feel like we should have [fewer] Happy Hours because we need to budget the deficit,” Sassmannshausen said.

However, Treasury representative Hancock said that Happy Hours are invaluable opportunities for upperclassmen living off-campus to meet on campus and avoid spending meal points.

“Having an opportunity to get free food when you live off-campus and have ten dollars in your wallet is really important for a lot of students,” Hancock said. “Getting all these people back in one space to remind them why they’re at Wash. U. in the first place is a really important aspect of this.”

SPB Happy Hour director sophomore Jonah Sugarman mentioned that Happy Hour was one of the few SPB programs held consistently throughout the year.

“Cutting Happy Hour would detract from our ability as SU to program regularly for students,” Sugarman said.

Treasury representative and freshman Adi Dugar raised concerns that funding alcohol at Happy Hours would not be in line with SU’s mission. Happy Hours are currently the only events which receive SU funding for alcohol.

“I think we should consider cutting alcohol out because we want to promote a healthier, safer campus,” Dugar said.

The legislative bodies ultimately recommended cutting the number of Happy Hour events from eleven to nine per semester, but to still fund alcohol at the events. However, Gupta did not take the body’s recommendation to cut the number of Happy Hours, leaving enough funding for eleven each semester. She stressed that partially defunding the decades-long tradition might cause backlash amongst students who could notice the decrease in programming.

Gupta will present a revised version of the balanced budget Tuesday, taking into consideration the opposition to the current balanced version. Once again, both the Senate and Treasury will need to two-thirds approval for the budget to pass.

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