The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Meeting XVII: Good, Ol’ Fashioned Politickin’

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 16 April 2009

Lyon-Griswold BrawlNo Consent in this Agenda. Quick refresher – the consent agenda refers to the list of items of approved at the Appropriations Board. Lumped together into one item, the agenda typically is approved without so much as a peep. That was hardly the case today, with a debate erupting over the $2,053.82 allocated to Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). Along with the funds allocated for SIFE’s trip to Singapore, the organization would command a full 7 percent of the total ASUA club funds.

The key of the day was “precedence” – not “precedent” – and how it related to club funding. The Board venerates “precedence” in the same way that the Supreme Court values stare decesis; which is to say, it cites it repeatedly until it is no longer convenient, and then forgets that it was ever a factor. The problem with SIFE was the lack of precedence for its world competition funding last fall – although, as EVP Anderson pointed out, this really should have made the Appropriations Board a bit more skeptical the second time the club came for funds.

The defenders of the SIFE program argued that the club was justified, as its funding levels were consistent with contest funding “precedence.” Furthermore, argued SIFE member and Senator Jason Mighdoll, the club isn’t really a “club,” since each of its eighteen projects are apparently the size of small clubs themselves – SIFE, then, is really more of a cartel. Sen. Bryan Baker heaped praise on the club in his defense of the spending levels, saying that the club, in winning the national SIFE (the UA’s chapter is one of hundreds) competition, represented the UA better than any club on campus.

Sen. Emily Fritze quickly countered, stating that the Board shouldn’t simply allocate funds on the basis on awards, and that prestige does not derive from contests alone. It was a bit odd that Sen. Fritze – the chair of the Board that voted unanimously to approve the item – brought up the SIFE issue in the first place, and was one of the chief opponents of the approved funding levels. Opposition to the funding largely hinged on the argument that the “precedence” of not allocating large portions of the budget to a single organization outweighed the “precedence” of avoiding concentrating club funding into several large groups.

This is common sense – but where was this sense during the Appropriations Board hearing itself? Sen. Mighdoll made this point best – the Senate, when reviewing Appropriations Board hearings, does not send an item back because they disagree with the final number; rather, they must send it back only when there have been violations in the fund-seeking club’s due process. In this case, it is hard to say what procedural basis the Senate is objecting to. Hopefully, this mini-debacle raises questions about why the effective power of the purse lies not with the elected body of ASUA, but with an appointed committee. In the end, only Sens. Baker and Mighdoll, who voted in spite of his admitted conflict of interest., opposed sending the item back to the Board.

ASA Position on Tuition Surcharge. ASA opposes the $1,100 surcharge for four reasons:

1) This surcharge should not be implemented in the middle of economic downturn, in which everyone is experiencing “budget reductions.”

2) This proposal flies in the face of predictable tuition increases, a program that the three presidents signed onto (in spirit, anyways) back in 2008.

3) There are still negotiations going on with the state legislature, and the stimulus still has to be deciphered – no raise should be implemented until these sources of funds work themselves out. Also, this sets the dangerous precedent of shifting the proportion of funding from the state to the individual [but who funds the state . . .? – EML].

4) This is an inappropriate time to be having this discussion – December is better.

Arguments 1,2, and 4 are all good and well, but 3 highlights the inherent problem with ASA – it’s inability to consider any alternative to more spending by the state. They fail to consider the possibility that the uncertainty in funding derives directly from the uncertain nature of democratic politics; and by advocating for further reliance on the state, ASA ensures that their much-loved “predictability” will never become a reality. This is the higher education version of George Bush’s foreign policy autism – just keep saying “40% = DETH” like a mantra, and budgetary problems will solve themselves.

Also, the surcharge has absolutely no sunset provision, of any sort.

Earth Day Fun! This presentation helped to remind us that in order to host a block party, the UA will have to shut down much of University Ave. – a move that will probably lead to increased traffic congestion. Also, the party will be hosting ‘yoga sessions’ – how this relates to environmentalism is unclear.

Stipends for Senators. The discussion over stipends, which we got a preview of last week, got into full swing this meeting. The results come down as follows: $1300 is too low, $1500 is too high, yet it was approved by a 5-4 vote (Sen. Wallace abstaining, recognizing the conflict of interest. Later in the meeting, the Senate decided to reconsider, and compromised at $1400.

In the meantime, though, the body engaged in its most fiery debate of the year; cash rules everything, etc.

The first, and most outrageous argument, was that Senators needed the stipends to help pay back the money that they were required (?) to spend on their campaigns. These Senators – Baker, Macchiaroli, and Wallace, among others – all cited a $200 cost for campaigns, even though the highest spender this year was $179.12, and the average campaign cost was $83.29. Even if they had spent $500, though, there is something very disingenuous about decrying the university for balancing its budget on students’ backs, all while fighting to balance their own budgets (in the case of returning Sen. Wallace) in the same manner.

This quickly morphed into a pseudo-class-warfare fight, pitting those who viewed the stipend as a pittance and a nice honorarium against the senators who felt that it should be, in words of Sen. Baker, “as high as possible,” in order to encourage a more diverse Senate This sentiment was quashed by the end by the friendly reminder that no matter how high the stipend gets, it will never be able to pay as much as a part-time job. Student government, by its very nature, will be by and large be the refuge of the financially well-off.

So we get back to a question that we hinted at in the Campus Policy Survey – why should these stipends be paid in the first place? Senators do a lot of work, and must serve office hours – the primary basis upon which stipends seem to be based. (For all the talk of payment directly based on office hours, it would be nice to see some data on how often these office hours are actually utilized by the student body.) It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Were the Senate to expand to twenty, or even thirty members, the relative amount of work required of each Senator would go down – to the point where the work rendered would hardly merit a stipend. As Sen. Andre Rubio said in the debate, “I would have done it for free.” Will meetings be longer? Yes – it’s called democratic debate; if efficiency is what we’re after, there’s a very simple way to make the SafeRide cars pick up on time. It seems, however, that ASUA will instead opt for the “honor” of being a member of the least representative Pac-10 student government instead.

Non-Senate Stipends. The major changes from this list are as follows:

-$800 for the Sustainability Director (while this was accounted for, it was omitted from the list due to a clerical error)

-$1200 (down from the proposed $1500) for the Executive Vice President Chief of Staff.

-$2500 (down from the proposed $3000) for the Treasurer.

More importantly, this debate highlighted a different tension: executives versus legislators. Usually, the Senate has served as little more as a pushover for the three executives; and so, when they dare to question executive motives and proposals, they can expect a lashing like that they received from EVP Anderson, who called the Senate “disrespectful” for daring to exercise their authority to determine stipend amounts. Even more troubling was Sen. Mackenzie’s criticizing of Sen. Wallace, for daring to publicly question President-Elect Nagata’s $1000 raise for the treasurer: “Questions should have been brought up personally, not in a Senate meeting.” ASUA’s tendency towards secrecy over transparency is no news, but it’s surprising to see how unashamed your student government is to defend this policy publicly.

This mini-check on executive authority comes far too late; yet hopefully, the Senate-elects in the audience realize that they don’t have to slavishly adhere to “Tommy’s Principles” (spelled out in the Little Cardinal Red Book?). This is not the first time that this site will advocate for a stronger legislature, at the expense of appointed officials and executive offices – it will certainly not be the last.

SAPR Scholarship, approved. You can read about the proposal here, here, and here. Sen. Macchiaroli was the lone “nay” vote.


6 Responses

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  1. Emily Fritze said, on 16 April 2009 at 10:08 am

    haha I meant to post that previous comment here. The Appropriations Senator does not vote on an item unless it is a tie. Therefore, the vote was unanimous because the Appropriations Directors voted it to be that way.

  2. Dave said, on 16 April 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I have this awesome scene playing in my head of Jessica Anderson flipping out about the Senate being disrespectful. It looks like this:

  3. Jimi Alexander said, on 16 April 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Thanks, Dave. That movie gave me nightmares the first time I saw it.

  4. […] work; which is to say, capitulate entirely to the executive branch. At last week’s meeting, the Senate reduced the Treasurer’s stipend from the proposed $3,000 to $2,500 (the current […]

  5. […] is club funding, but this function has largely been outsourced to a non-elected Board (see this post for more on […]

  6. […] that dared to exercise its First Amendment rights? And the call comes from the vice president who lashed out at the Senate that dared to exercise its constitutional power to approve […]

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