SU passes general budget of $3.9 million

| Senior News Editor

Student Union unanimously passed a $3.9 million general budget, using a new streamlined process for the second year in a row.

SU’s general budget is funded by the student activities fee, which is equal to 1% of the cost of undergraduate tuition. Under the new system, the details of the general budget proposal are hashed out in smaller section meetings composed of both SU Senate and Treasury representatives. Based on these discussions, Vice President of Finance senior Alexa Jochims constructed a budget proposal that approved $3,906,433.23 of the $4,525,244.14 in requested funds.

A joint session of the Treasury and Senate took place over Zoom, Feb. 27, to debate and approve some version of this proposal.

The largest section in the budget was $1.9 million dedicated to funding student group reserves, an increase from $1.6 million last year. Nearly all student groups on campus receive their funding through this process.

A proposal to reduce the budget for student group reserves was raised but quickly dismissed, as many argued that this section of the budget should not be used as a reserve fund for other initiatives.

“In terms of really advocating for the student body from a Treasury perspective, moving from Carly Rae Jepsen to T-Pain is just simply not as important to allowing students to do what they really want to do on campus and actually have their events,” Activities Committee Chair junior Zoe Hancock said.

The final budget also allocated $1,020,630 to the Social Programming Board, which is responsible for hosting a variety of events open to the entire student body, the most popular of which are the biannual WILD concerts. Jochims’ initial proposal allocated $125,000 for fall WILD and $100,000 for spring WILD, but Student Union ended up voting 18-17 in favor of adding an additional $10,000 to the budget of spring WILD.

“It’s been made very clear that this is not enough money to run a suitable WILD,” treasury representative junior Joel Brody said. “The 125 [thousand] for big WILD is fine, but 100 grand for the small one is not going to get us there.”

However, Hancock expressed reservations about allocating an additional $10,000 without a clear understanding of how it would affect the quality of the WILD artist.

“Any increase that we do is going to be kind of arbitrary, because we don’t have an ability to see which artists we would like to choose between,” she said. “I would also really consider that an increase of $10,000 in WILD talent seems like a small number compared to the rest of it. But $10,000 anywhere else in our budget is a massive, massive chunk.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, SPB had considered adjusting the annual WILD budget to plan one larger concert and one smaller concert, but this was postponed due to COVID-19.

“Previously, we put out a student body vote, and the student body wanted to do a bigger WILD and a smaller WILD,” Vice President of Programming senior Charlotte Pohl said. “But then because of COVID and missing three semesters worth of WILD, we thought it would be better to go back to the medium sized ones and then that can be re-addressed at the end of next year.”

One other significant change from previous years was that student groups were unable to petition for block funding, a complex process that requires groups to gather signatures from 15% of the student body in order to be guaranteed full funding. Student groups such as Emergency Support Team (EST), Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling, the Campus Y and Habitat for Humanity had all petitioned for block funding in previous years, but either failed to gather enough signatures or opted to forgo the process in anticipation of lower engagement related to the pandemic.

“EST and Uncle Joe’s both said that they wanted to become line items, which is why we saw them in a different spot today,” Jochims said. “Habitat for Humanity a couple days ago said that they would rather just go through the student group budget submission process, instead of using block funding and they pulled out pretty quickly. Then Campus Y and Datamatch ultimately didn’t receive enough signatures to go on the March ballot, which is why they also shifted over to student group funding.”

Because of the important role that these groups play on campus, SU elected to write them into the budget as line items. However, EST received $49,476.39 of its requested $51,742.39 in funding, while Uncle Joe’s received just $5,625 of its requested $9,105.

The entire joint session ended up taking around seven hours, something that Budget Committee Chair junior Fadel Alkilani felt could have been significantly reduced, arguing that going over every single line item was redundant since the same process had already occurred in the smaller section groups.

“Almost all of the first half of the session was motion[s] to recommend for the amount that was already balanced and then motion[s] to vote,” Alkilani said. “If you compare the final budget to the budget that was presented, it had very few very marginal changes…If the members of the legislative bodies had actually done what they were supposed to do ahead of the session, then a lot of the discussion that occurred today would not have needed to have happened.”

However, when Alkilani brought up these concerns in the joint session and proposed an earlier vote on the entire budget, the proposal was met with significant opposition.

“For the general budget, I spent a lot of time in my section group. I spent a lot of time reading the slides, spent a lot of time looking at different budgets, spent a lot of time in SU finance,” SU Senator sophomore Emmet Klein said. “And I still have questions that I’d like to bring up in different sections. I think there are a lot of first-year senators who have questions. I think it’s just ill-advised to go through the budget really quickly.”

Jochims acknowledged that parts of the joint session could seem redundant, but emphasized that under the old budgetary process, this same meeting had taken up to 27 hours and that the budgetary process can always be further improved.

“I think the level of preparation going into the session has improved dramatically,” Jochims said. “I think we tried to fix some of the issues associated with…how you make sure that the people that were experts on their section teams get a good idea of the whole overview of the budget and are well prepared to all sections before heading into the joint session, but it’s hard to do that in a virtual format. And so I think, given the cards we were dealt, I think we were able to continue to improve this process a lot.”

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