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Controversial A&S budget bill hits another snag

The proposed $17.378 budget bill has been an item of controversy since its inception, with both members of administration and student government citing legality issues.

The already-bumpy road leading to the passage of the 2018-19 Activity and Service Fee budget has hit another pothole, with some members of Student Government and the USF administration accusing each other of violating state law, and with the controversial $17.378 million bill still in limbo as it awaits System President Judy Genshaft’s signature.

USF Vice President for Student Affairs and Student Success Paul Dosal returned the unsigned budget to Student Body President Moneer Kheireddine and said in a letter dated May 7 that the inclusion of a $1.375 million endowment, with the money to be invested in an off-campus account, violated state statutes. Dosal said if changes weren’t made by the Activity and Service Fee Committee, the university, by default, would revert to the 2017-18 budget.

Activity and Service Fee Recommendation Committee (ASRC) chairman Aladdin Hiba then fired off a letter in response, saying Dosal’s threat to use the 2017-18 budget was a violation of state law.

Dosal said his decision was a result of members of SG not heeding the warnings given to them by administration throughout the process of the bill’s inception, as he pointed to USF Investment Policy 6.028, which states that Activity and Service (A&S) Fees, which provides the majority of funds for departments such as Campus Recreation and the Marshall Student Center, shall only be housed in university accounts. The line item of the bill which violates this policy is the proposed $1.375 million endowment, which would see A&S dollars held in an off-campus account for investment purposes.

Though Hiba and members of SG anticipated a line-item veto of the endowment, Dosal said he did not implement a line-item veto because doing so would violate statutes as well.

“Further, I am unable to veto or line item veto the proposed budget,” Dosal said in the letter. “If I were to exercise that authority as the president’s designee, the funds allocated for the endowment would be redirected to unallocated reserves. That too would violate the intent and directive of Florida statutes, which authorize student government representatives to recommend appropriate expenditures of A&S fees for lawful purposes that benefit the student body in general.

“The SGA has abdicated its responsibility to present a valid budget as required by statute, to ensure that the A&S fund is applied and used for students enrolled at the university. I am therefore directing university budget officials to revert to the last lawful ASRC budget submitted by student government (the 2017-2018 budget), and prorate the expenditures based on 2018-2019 revenues.”

Hiba said SG remains undeterred and will continue pushing for the bill, citing statutes of their own and claiming such a decision breaks the law.

In an email to The Oracle, Hiba said that the decision made by Dosal is in violation of state statutes, including FL 1009.24 (10)(b).

“State law says you can (a) sign, (b) veto/line-item veto, or (c) do nothing,” Hiba said in the email. “FL Law says if you do nothing, the bill passes, by default. There is no (d) if you don’t like the numbers SG sends, you can pick your past year of choice. If something is illegal, you can line-item veto that … Your justification says, weirdly and for the first time ever, that having unallocated reserves is illegal. The justification says this is the reason you’re going with 17-18 budget instead of the line-item veto.  That’s nonsense. State law not only allows unallocated reserves, it explicitly establishes it as a thing. “Unexpended funds and undispersed funds”.  Not to mention, the 17-18 budget also has unallocated reserves, as has the 16-17 budget, as has every budget going as far back as we have records.”

The proposed 2018-19 budget called for across-the-board cuts of varying percentages to most Student Affairs departments, including the Center for Student Involvement and Campus Recreation. However, with the budget reverting back to the 2017-18 fiscal year, the proposed cuts will not be implemented, though new initiatives approved for 2018-19 would be wiped out.

Hiba sent an email to student organizations that did not receive A&S fees in 2017-18 but were approved for funding in 2018-19, saying Dosal’s action would deprive them of funds in the coming school year. Dosal responded with a letter of his own May 9 telling the organizations that a method of funding would be found for them in 2018-19.

“I understand that you and many other student leaders received a misleading message claiming that funding for student organizations for the 2018-2019 year was in jeopardy because of my decision to “throw out” the 2018-2019 budget bill,” Dosal said in the letter. “Let me assure you that it is my intention that all student organizations that received funding in the 2018-2019 budget proposal will receive funding.”

In response to Dosal's decision SG created a call-to-action video that was posted on social media, specifically the graduating class Facebook pages. According to Hiba, this was done so that students directly impacted by the budget bill decision know they have the opportunity to reach out to both Dosal and Genshaft and that their voices are being heard.

According to Hiba, the decision to produce this video was made in response to the administration’s decision.

“This would be setting a precedent of the administration taking away the students' ability to allocate the A&S funds,” Hiba said in an interview Wednesday with The Oracle. “We had to respond, because they (administration) escalated by doing this. We had to respond by asking the university president, the person who state law actually refers to, the person who has the responsibility of the university in its entirety to look at the situation holistically and to make a decision that would be better for everybody.”

Hiba said that the “easiest solution” moving forward would be for either Genshaft or Dosal to issue a statement retracting the decision to use the previous fiscal year’s budget bill and to, instead, work to find an alternative for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which starts July 1.