SA BUMPS FEE TO EASE BUDGET WOES, OPPOSITION QUESTIONS TRANSPARENCY
Full-time students will pay $10 more for next semester after the Student Association senate — in a decision met with praise, scorn, and confusion — raised the three-year steady student activity fee.
In a 26-13-4 vote, senators moved to increase the fee from $100 to $110. Responding to concerns over student group funding and programming, the new legislation aims to add $260,000 in revenue per academic year to the current $2.5 million SA budget.
Introducing the proposal, Austin Ostro, senate vice chair and co-sponsor of the increase, described the bill as the “only solution” to solve funding restraints.
Morgan Knudtsen, SA Supreme Court Justice, mentioned increasing the price of admission to SA events such as Parkfest as an alternative solution to collecting revenue. Not every student is likely to attend, she argued.
Raising event prices would provide fewer opportunities for students, Ostro responded.
Jarrett Altilio, senate chair and the second co-sponsor, said that the fee increase has been under development for the last eight months. Finally drafted, the proposal was first sent out earlier in the week, catching some SA members by surprise.
“You might take issue with the way which we’ve sought input,” said Altilio.“That’s fine, but we’ve noticed since the last time this was proposed that we’ve been able to consolidate a lot more support over this.”
He continued, “Because the fact of the matter remains: we need more money in the budget if we want to [give] more to external causes and this is the best way to do it in my opinion.”
While the majority of senators voted for the increase, transparency concerns were frequently discussed during the meeting.
Tiana Bosnjak, a political science student, questioned both sponsors about student awareness prior to the meeting.
“Why don’t you send out an email out to the student body?” she asked. “You’re using their money. This isn’t just your money that’s in the student activity fee.”
Similar concerns carried over from last semester’s fee proposal when a rolling three-year increase was tabled and eventually withdrawn from the senate floor. Criticized for lacking student input, senate leaders considered arranging town hall meetings and surveys to increase campus feedback over the fee.
The sponsors were questioned, especially by Julia Alford, senator-at-large, for not using either previously mentioned measures in the bill’s planning process. She also alleged that the increase violates SUNY policy by going into effect during the academic year.
Alerted by the legislation up for proposal on Wednesday morning, Alford posted the bill across UAlbany Facebook groups to gather student attention.
“I don’t agree with this bill as a whole and I don’t think a lot of us agree with this bill as a whole because at the end of the day our students need to have voices,” she said.
Both sponsors said that they informally gathered student feedback, often receiving student complaints about budget constraints by student groups.
Christopher Li, State Quad senator, rejected the need for a pre-survey on the increase. He maintained that the increase should not be treated differently than other bill voted on the senate floor.
“The need for a survey is really redundant,” said Li. “It’s our job to be representative of the students with their interest in our mind.”
Hoping for change after last semester, Melissa Mosby, senator-at-large, was disappointed by the proposal’s transparency measures. During the debate, Mosby claimed that the majority of student input she received about the fee increase was negative.
“To be honest, I think we’re just going to continue the path of not informing the students,” said Mosby. “So, if we don’t tell the students how their money is going to be allocated, that’s not fine with me, but if this the path, I think [the senate] will feel fine continuing on that path.”
Unlike Mosby, Jeff Shapiro, humanities senator, praised the legislation. He believes the increase will aid a growing number of student groups under SA, unable to obtain greater funding under budget restraints.
Over 120 student groups have submitted budget packets this year. Last year, 88 students groups submitted budget packets.
“I feel like this extra money in our budget process next year will help us expand [and make] SA a better place for students,” Shapiro said.
Appropriations were originally overshadowed by the $90,000 set aside to the SA concert line to improve Parkfest after ticket setbacks last year. An additional $10,000 went to fund SA Day. The remaining $30,000 went to appropriations which would fund student groups come next academic year.
Senators debated over the majority of funds going to student groups, instead of Parkfest. After conflict ensued, the senate pushed to removed line items from the legislation.
“It does not make sense to put $90,000, which is the majority of this bill, towards one program that the majority of students will not be able to attend,” said Brett Wolffe, Freedom Apartments senator.
The legislation’s overall impact could be stalled if the fee’s mandatory status drops after going up for a referendum in March. Student activity fees at state-operated campuses are required to be put up for a referendum every two years under SUNY guidelines. Throughout the SUNY system, fees voted as voluntary under referendum are rare.
In 2015, the fee was voted as voluntary by a 44 vote margin from less than 15 percent of the campus. In response to the vote being incongruent with SUNY guidelines, the elections commission called for a re-vote.
Following the most recent increase approval last week, the senate also voted to put together a task force to reverse the possibility of the fee being voted as voluntary. The task force will consist of seven student group presidents, five SA leaders, and three senators, meeting bi-weekly at most by next semester.
The increase alone was partially sought to promote the fee before the referendum. In response to Vice President Colin Manchester who argued that the vote should be tabled for next semester because of lacking student input, Ostro said that putting an increase next semester would demonstrate effective use of the fee by the SA before the referendum.
“People need to understand that this fee is special,” said Ostro. “It’s the fee that they’ll most directly benefit from. It doesn’t go to help some athletes or build some new library; it goes to directly help their organizations.”