With a referendum that’ll ask students if they’re willing to pay $6 to $9 per-credit-hour fee to help finance an on-campus football stadium officially on next week’s midterm ballot, Student Government (SG) is left to weigh the options of what comes next after students vote.
Even if the student votes on the referendum are overwhelmingly in favor, it will not automatically begin the process of adding an extra student fee. The goal of the referendum is to gather student feedback, which SG will then use to pitch the fee to the Board of Trustees (BOT).
“While the results of the referendum are not legally binding, the input that we can get from the students, if it’s overwhelmingly in favor of the fee, that will give us a stamp of approval which carries much more weight than any clause that says something is or isn’t legally binding,” Yousef Afifi, who is spearheading the referendum, told The Oracle last week.
Sen. Yusuf Fattah said that if voters do give this ‘stamp of approval,’ SG will start the process of attempting to add the fee.
“We’re going to have everything on our side logistically done and then we can go to the BOT and (Board of Governors) BOG,” Fattah said. “We can go to everyone we need to in order to get that fee approved because at the end of the day, we’re not going to charge students this money if we don’t have a concrete plan.”
To get the fee approved, it would have to first be approved by USF’s BOT, then the BOG, and finally by the current Florida Governor.
Governor Rick Scott has historically been against any increases to student fees.
In 2017, Scott proposed to cap student fees, extend the Bright Futures Scholarship to summer courses and rid of sales tax attached to textbooks, in an initiative he called, “Finish in Four, Save More.”
“Florida students should have every opportunity to earn a degree in four years without graduating with mountains of debt,” Scott said in Jan. 2017. “While we have fought to make higher education more affordable by holding the line on undergraduate tuition, there is much more that can be done to help students.”
However, Student Body President Moneer Kheireddine told The Oracle last week that it may be easier to get a student fee added depending on the new governor’s stance on tuition and fees.
“With the election coming up, there will be someone new in office,” Kheireddine said. “No matter who it is, they can make a decision whether they want to stay with that same mentality, or they can change it. If they change it, that opens the door for new opportunities especially when it comes to trying to secure fee increases and trying to do more innovative stuff, especially on younger campuses in Florida.”
According to Florida statute 1009.24, when adding a new fee that isn’t already allowed under the statute, the BOG must make certain considerations when assessing a proposal. Some of these include whether there is a demonstrable student-based need for the new fee that is not currently being met through existing university services, operations or another fee and whether the financial impact on students is warranted in light of other charges assessed to students for tuition and associated fees.
Travis McCloskey, a member of the SG stadium task force, said before the fee proposal gets that far, the appropriate entities must develop a solid plan when it comes to the funding and construction of the stadium.
“Hopefully, if they vote yes, a lot of partnerships will be formed,” McCloskey said. “We’re beginning talks with Athletics, Facilities Management, many different parts on campus. We would also kind of get the schematics going. So if it’s voted yes, the real building and planning part will really start to become full-fledged.”
Fattah said if a majority of students vote no, SG will have to go back to the drawing boards to develop a new way to fund the potential stadium.
“We’re not going to give up on a stadium,” Fattah said.