The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Meeting, 7 October 2009: James Madison crashes the Junior League

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 7 October 2009

The main debate at this week’s meeting (agenda) revolved around funding the Pride Alliance ad in the Daily Wildcat. As a recap: to celebrate Coming Out Week, ASUA Pride Alliance (an administrative division of the executive branch) traditionally sponsors a two-page ad in the Wildcat, listing those staff, faculty,and students who have “come out” of the proverbial closet, along with those allies who support them.

The gesture costs a pretty penny, though (in the neighborhood of $2000 – $2500, although a complete total was never actually stated). As a result, Pride Alliance solicits support from outside sources – including the Senate, which traditionally shells out $500 (the amount requested both this year and last).

Usually, this is a non-controversial issue. Yet this year Pride Alliance stumbled out of the gate, failing to convey that the item before the Senate was an action item (appropriating money) rather than an informational item (thinking about appropriating money) at last week’s meeting. After the meeting, AVP Ziccarelli explained that there were several other reasons for the confusion. While most incoming officials receive transition materials, ex-AVP Patel neglected to do so for the administrative division of the executive. The full-time staffer that is usually involved in the process is a candidate in a job search. Like all divisions, Pride Alliance is facing a huge cut due to the losses from Last Smash Platinum Bash (an increasingly fitting name).

And then, there’s Sen. Daniel Wallace.

Sen. D. Wallace does not oppose the ad, per se. After all, he was one of the 116 listed Allies, and did not hesitate to remind the Senate how much he loved the ad each and every time he had a chance to speak. But once again, he raised the specter of the executive operations funds. Since this is an executive program, and AVP Ziccarelli has an operations budget of $7,000 (half the size of the Senate’s entire budget, why not fund the difference out of that account? Further, he cited the fact that last year’s administrative vice president spent only $1,300 of her account – leaving a surplus of $5,700, more than enough to fund the ad.

Executive attitude towards Senate money was inadvertently revealed when Sen. D. Wallace asked the executives whether the ad was budgeted for by Pride Alliance. As it turns out, the budgeting process is a bit odd: initially, directors submit an “ideal” budget to the respective executive – in effect, a rosy take on last year’s numbers. The executive then informs them how much money is actually available, and the director makes adjustments – without any further approval from the executive!

Yet more interesting than this was Treasurer Harris’ response: since Pride Alliance historically seeks funds from the Senate, this was accounted for when the final budget. In other words, the executive branch was assuming the appropriation of Senate funds.

Wallace the Younger was alone, for the most part, in his argument, although no one – including Ziccarelli – offered a convincing reason for why this couldn’t come out of an operations budget. (The AVP did cite the use of such funds for another event on campus, to indicate that she wasn’t simply hording the money recession-style.) Instead, in the words of Sen. Quillin, this was “a sign of senatorial support.” The ad was “successful” – which is to say, it was “aesthetically pleasing” and was, in fact, printed in the Wildcat. The money was not an issue – after all, Sen. Weingartner did some quick envelope-map to show that it amounted to only $50 of each Senator’s $1,400 budget.

In the end, the motion passed. A compromise position offered by Sen. Atjian II, which would appropriate $125 to the ad while encouraging the other four divisions of ASUA (president, EVP, AVP, and Treasurer) to do the same, failed 3-7 (Atjian, S. Wallace, and Weingartner voted aye). The final vote was 8-1-1, with Sen. D. Wallace voting nay and Sen. Yamaguchi abstaining.

Even if the result may have been the same as last year, this year’s debate sharply diverges from that Senate. Here, in no particular order, is a list of issues that the debate delved into: separation/division of powers; hierarchy of powers (Sen. Atjian asserted that the branches were “equals,” although assuming American republic structure the Senate is in fact superior); transparency of spending; tradition v. reform; funding sources and the budgeting process; and the role of the legislative branch. Few political science courses at the university cover so much, let alone in an hour-long period.

More than anything, this debate – and Wallace’s argument in particular – marks the reentry of politics back into UA undergraduate government. Although ASUA is an incorporated student government, with a constitution and bylaws and constituents and campus-wide elections, the predominant view  is one of a service organization. No one expressed this attitude better than Sen. Sarah Bratt, who objected to Sen. D. Wallace’s depiction of the appropriation as a “burden” by saying, “I see this as a nice donation to a great cause.” Readers are encouraged to apply this quote to the various ‘donations’ that the federal government makes, but the more important point is that such an approach completely ignores the fact that this is not simply another club or house giving money to a “cause.”

Such an attitude used to be ascendant in ASUA, and was almost realized perfectly in the form of former President Bruce, who viewed ASUA as more of a service-providing student firm than a deliberative body. Now, we have a genuine debate in the body – and although even ASUA has seen bodies that have perhaps become too political, for now Wallace’s arguments and research are a necessary infusion.

(As a postscript, one might openly wonder why ASUA didn’t simply force the ad through. For one, it’s not as though there’s huge competition for the equivalent two-page color inserts. Secondly, it’s odd that one fee-funded division of Student Affairs should charge another fee-funded division of Student Affairs full-market rates.)

MISCELLANIA:

-Mark your calendars – the ASUA Election dates are in. Primaries will be held March 2-3, and the generals will be held March 9-10.

-Thankfully, the madness of the Freshman Class Council homecoming float has been stemmed. This year, the FCC will only be requesting $400 from the Senate (by way of comparison, last year they requested $1,200 and received $850.)

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