SG Senate passes annual budget bill amid contention

The annual budget bill passed Senate with 25-8 vote. ORACLE PHOTO/CHAVELI GUZMAN

Tensions ran high Tuesday evening in the Senate Chambers as members of the gallery challenged the notion of Senate passing its Activity and Service (A&S) Fee Annual Budget bill.

Despite the objections from gallery members, primarily comprised of student employees and members of A&S-funded student organizations, Senate members passed the budget in a 25-8 vote.

The budget includes an overall 15 percent cut to A&S-funded departments, as well as an endowment of $1.375 million. The endowment was proposed with the intention of being invested in off-campus financial institutions to generate returns to prevent Student Government (SG) from entering into a deficit in future years.

The cuts will result in a fiscal restructure of departments such as the Marshall Student Center (MSC), Campus Recreation, Safe Team, the Center for Student Involvement and the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE), among others.

Many of the cuts targeted the programming budgets of these departments that allow them to fund events.

“We cut programming because we did not want to cut the professional staff, because then the programs will not be feasible and we do not have the authority to increase the A&S fees,” Sen. Andrew Pitts-Nordera said.

Many of the gallery members chose to use their short speaking times to talk about the effects they believed their departments or student organizations would have to adjust to.

“We have been a part of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement for three years and this budget will not only put student leadership and student engagement at risk, but I think it will decrease student diversity and experience as a whole,” said Kayla Rykiel, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences and director for TEDxUSF, which is slated to get no funding. “I ask you Senate, to engage with students that are in these programs and find out why they are important to the university.”

Sen. Aida-Vazquez Soto said there was a lack of clarity on exactly what amount of money would be left if the endowment and senator pay were not included in the budget. ASRC proposed $132,480 in order to pay senators for the next term. Vazquez-Soto said the numbers Student Business Services (SBS) and ASRC Chair Aladdin Hiba presented were different.

She said SBS informed her that if these two items weren’t proposed there would be upward of $500,000 left in the funds and Hiba said there would be about negative $1.3 million.

“Aladdin (Hiba) was working until the 10th hour trying to get this information, but I wish that they (ASRC) had budgeted their time better to have given Senate more time to come prepared and ask the questions that they need to ask and for SBS to have been able to give them the information that they needed,” Danielle McDonald, dean of students, said.

During the discussion period for the bill, the point was brought up that it is likely that the bill will be vetoed due to the inclusion of the endowment, which administration says breaks USF statutes.   

The bill will land on Student Body President Moneer Kheireddine’s desk next and he will have the choice to either veto or sign the budget within 10 business days.

“On the budget as a whole, I expressed disappointment, though I do not plan on vetoing the bill,” Kheireddine said, “But, I did express disappointment within the meeting, specifically because I voted no on the bill as a whole. There were certain dynamics on what was brought forward in certain compromises that I wish would have happened and I wish there were to have been more of a conversation on certain topics and it was not so rushed and that we could see more implications on what our cuts would do.”

The bill must then be sent to administration where, according to McDonald, the endowment will likely be line-item vetoed.

“I anticipate the endowment to be line-item vetoed and I don’t know what other line-item vetoes there may be,” McDonald said. “What that will mean is, when line-item vetoes happen they will go back to a special session of ASRC. They can only then reallocate the amount that was vetoed.”

During a question period for Hiba, Sen. Melanie Marshall asked why this endowment was proposed when the legality of it was called into question.

“In our role as members of ASRC — this is something we thought was beneficial to the student body, to propose it … it was ASRC’s role to fund it and whatever happens happens,” Hiba said.

Conversations about whether administration has the power to dissolve Senate arose during the discussion period. McDonald said it is not something anyone wants, but it is possible.

“The Board of Governors and the regulations say we have to have a student government, doesn’t say we have to have that student government,” McDonald said.