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Student Association Senate Spars Over $100 Ask, Gift Certificates in Question

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The Student Association debated a $100 appropriations bill for over 15 minutes on Wednesday.

The bill, which previously passed the appropriations committee by a margin of 5-1 with three abstentions, sought $100 of the $92,000 appropriations budget for the group La Dolce Vita, UAlbany’s Italian-American club, to purchase gift cards as prize incentives for upcoming bocce ball and scoop tournaments the group seeks to hold.

Of the four appropriation bills up for debate last Wednesday, La Dolce Vita’s was the smallest.

Kehila’s request was for $200, Black Theatre Productions request was for $800, and Pan-Caribbean Association’s request was for $2,500, all of which passed the appropriations committee unanimously and received the necessary two-thirds majority vote from the SA Senate without debate.

The dispute over La Dolce Vita’s request centered around how the group would be spending the money in question and how the standard for using appropriations money for gift cards could be set moving forward.

“I think the whole thing with gift cards is it puts the committee in an uncomfortable position,” said ranking Appropriations Committee member Patrick Carroll, the sole member who voted against the bill in its initial stages. “Groups can now come and ask for $1,000 for gift cards and for me that’s uncomfortable.”

Carroll wasn’t alone in voicing his concerns. Mitchell Ryback, chair of the board of finance, explained there have been past situations where SA has refused to allot money for gift cards over concerns of how executive board members have distributed said cards.

“The reason for [not allotting money for gift cards] is because when gift cards are given…there have been concerns about who is getting the gift cards,” said Ryback, who explained there have been past complaints of student group officers members distributing gift cards to personal friends or maintaining possession of the cards themselves.

Several SA senators voiced concerns over complaints involving gift cards in the past. However, as of writing, the Albany Student Press has been unable to obtain any such record of complaint. “I’ve heard stories,” claimed Carroll. “I can’t go into specifics about them because I don’t know them. It’s a realistic thing that could happen.”

“Gift cards are a thing for Student Association now,” said Jeffrey Shapiro, who went on to say any decision pertaining to appropriations money and gift cards should have been made during the budget season. “I think it’s more fair to make this decision before we make budgets for our students groups instead of just focusing on this one situation.”

The bill, which ultimately received the necessary two-thirds majority needed to pass, brought to light concerns regarding the appropriations budget and raised the question of whether SA should allow appropriations money to be spent on prizes such as gift cards.

As of Oct. 25, there was a total of $92,000 remaining in the appropriations budget. “If we come into the spring [semester] with over $75,000, there’s going to be a lot of money to spend,” said Mark Anthony Quinn, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who went on to explain the current fall semester is nearly over and that groups are typically less active during the last month of the semester.

“We do need to make sure we’re looking at the budget long term so that we’re not setting dangerous precedents,” sai Jarrett Altilio, senate chair, of the debate over La Dolce Vita’s appropriation budget before going on to say he wouldn’t classify this case as dangerous.

“It was more about the principle and the standard being set than the dollar amount,” said Altilio.

There is currently nothing in the SA bylaws that prohibits or limits the use of appropriations money for gift cards.

“I don’t think there needs to be [rules for gift cards]” said  Brandon Holdridge, chair of the Rules Committee, who went on to say that he will further discuss that matter with his committee as a way of responding to SA’s concerns.

“I have confidence in the appropriations committee to make the right decision,” said Holdridge. “I have confidence in the senate as a whole to either vote down or pass a bill that is given gift cards to people.”

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Chad Arnold is a reporter for the Albany Student Press covering Student Association affairs. He is also an die-hard heavy metal fan.

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