GUSA budget passes after controversy

April 23, 2009

The GUSA Senate voted to pass their budget this week with twenty-six senators in favor, one senator opposed, and two abstentions.  The meeting Wednesday night ended almost two months of internal politics and controversy over club finances. It seems that senators ultimately believed failing the budget would do more harm than good, despite concerns about fiscal irresponsibility on the part of both campus clubs and GUSA.

GUSA President Calen Angert (MSB ‘11) started what became a month-long discussion about clubs’ hundred-thousand-dollar reserve funds when he addressed a Senate meeting in late March.

According to Senator Johnny Solis (SFS ‘11), Angert pressured other GUSA members to oppose the current budget, in order to create a new budget that would give GUSA control of the money in specific funding boards’ reserve accounts. Angert allegedly wanted the money for what he called the “Georgetown Fund,” $60,000 for GUSA to disburse without involving SAC or other student funding boards.

Angert abruptly changed his mind at the meeting, saying that although he didn’t like the budget the Senate was considering, he believed lack of funding would hurt some clubs too badly for the budget to fail. Other senators who had previously spoken out against the budget, notably Senator Tim Swenson (COL ‘10), also cited the needs of campus groups when they switched tactics and called for it to pass.

It is unclear why Angert and those who agreed with him softened their stance, but their change of heart may have been due to the presentations that key club heads made during the meeting.

According to Senator Matt Wagner (SFS ‘11), “What changed everyone’s minds was putting a human face on SAC, and the presence of Club Sports and the Center for Social Justice.” Previously, SAC had been faulted for the amount of money kept in reserve, which chair Aakib Khaled (SFS ‘10) estimated to be about $195,000. However, he did say SAC was working to decrease their reserves by spending money on things like office spaces.

Khaled also reiterated a statistic he cited in an e-mail to SAC club heads on Sunday: if SAC did not receive the $52,000 it planned to receive from GUSA, it would have to reduce spending by 25%. Khaled remained in the room for the duration of the meeting.

Other funding boards said their financial situations could be far more dire. Nick Calta (COL ‘10), chair of the Advisory Board for Club Sports, put the consequences for his group in stark terms.

“If this budget doesn’t get passed, we won’t get 93% of our funding,” he said. “Sports could die out if they don’t get funded next year.” Calta said club sports needed its money most in late August and September, meaning it was impossible that his board could survive the summer if GUSA passed a second draft of the budget in the fall.

In the end, even the senators—who had previously rejected the budget because they believed SAC’s reserve fund was swollen—voted to approve the budget. Swenson voiced what seemed to be the prevailing opinion in the room.

“If we fail this bill, everyone’s getting punished for certain acts of certain groups,” he said. Although Swenson had written an e-mail saying he was “skeptical” about the budget less than twelve hours before the meeting, he voted to approve it.

Vice Speaker Nick Troiano (COL ’11) cast the sole vote in opposition of the budget. GUSA had previously passed a resolution stating that the Senate would not pass a budget until student funding boards made the allocation process more transparent; Troiano was the only senator who reiterated GUSA’s original concerns.
Speaker Reggie Greer (COL ‘09) disagreed with Troiano’s notion that the Senate had an alternative to passing the budget that night.

“I am relieved and thrilled that the budget was passed,” Greer said. “With respect to my vice speaker and some of the others, people check out by Georgetown Day. If I thought another meeting could take place [to draft another budget before the end of the year], I would have loved to come back and consider this.”

Greer added that the chances another budget could be drafted and passed by the funding board by the close of the academic year “were slim to none.”

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Comments 6

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    Can someone do some digging to find out if SAC really would have had to slash club budgets by 25%? That doesn’t seem to make sense if they’ve got almost $200 thousand in reserve funding available…

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    Calen Angert left as soon as he made comments…disappointing that the new president wouldn’t even want to hear from students

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    Another well reported article. Hope you work with GUSA again next year. I did vote for the budget because it seemed like the only other option was no money for anyone, but this doesn’t mean I am giving a free pass to SAC. If groups like SAC have such a big reserve and can’t give us an exact number for their insurance, etc. then what it says to me is students don’t need to be giving that much money to the clubs, so I would like to pursue lowering the student fee, even if for a few years so we can get the spending back to a more responsible number. Ultimately it came down last night to passing or failing the budget. It seemed like there was not going to be another budget proposal and when that’s the case we have to give the money to everyone even though some many not deserve it. Perhaps we can also pursue more development of the line item approval. I would certainly support that.

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    Just food for thought-

    Doing away with the up-or-down vote on the budget would totally defeat the purpose of a few knowledgeable people (the 13 members of the funding board, 7 of which are GUSA senators elected to the committee by the full senate) making informed decisions about student finance.

    Tim and I were two of those 13 people, and we both voted for this budget at the Budget Allocation Summit (or funding board meeting, whichever) on February 11th. The decision to approve was (as it must always be) unanimous.

    Going through the budget line-by-line would not only waste the time of the full senate, but it would also politicize and undermine a process that has been carefully crafted to blend accountability and transparency (the allocation summit is a public meeting, albeit many hours long) with educated and informed decisions that reflect a true compromise between all of the student organizations that need funding on this campus.

    Perhaps the word “compromise” should be a bit more valued.

    But I do agree with the idea of reducing the student activities fee for a while, to get those reserve funds down. That’s a great call.

    Lastly, I should point out that a process was started last fall to change the way that SAC leadership is chosen. More to come on that, hopefully, quite soon.

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    I agree with Wagner, here.

    When Eden and I envisioned the original Finance & Appropriations Committee, the intent was to create a body of people who are specifically knowledgeable about the finances of (1) GUSA, and (2) the various funding boards.

    We didn’t think it would be productive to allow Senators who were not at the budget summit to unilaterally change everything. Otherwise, a budget summit wouldn’t make too much sense.

    That having been said, we also wanted to balance the competing concern that budgets are transparent, fair and democratically-voted on. So we put in the 10 day consensus rule and required the full Senate to either vote, reject or return the bill to committee.

    I think recent events have shown that the 10 day consensus rule is perhaps somewhat counter-productive, as it takes an unseemly long time to reconvene the funding board and, in practice, can mean that a budget might not be passed for months despite clear desire.

    Perhaps a refined rule: First meeting consensus is required to pass, second 2/3rds, and third majority. All three meetings must occur within ten days, or the next meeting will automatically be majority vote. Balances pressure with efficiency.

    Anyway, just my two cents.