The student body will be deciding whether or not the Student Government (SG) Senate shrinks by a third in the 2022 general election alongside electing a new administration of representatives.
Changes to Article III Section II of the Constitution of the Student Body will be on the ballot, which would cut the legal SG Senate population from 60 to 40 seats. To be approved, the change requires a simple majority vote from the student body.
Each campus is guaranteed three seats in the Senate and the remaining are based on each campus’ student enrollment figures, according to SG Director Gary Manka. This reduction would leave 31 seats for the Tampa campus, five for St. Pete and four for Sarasota-Manatee.
The decision for SG to campaign the reduction in available seats comes as a response to the output of the Campus Council — the Senate’s legislative counterpart — and forthcoming state legislation that will raise the minimum wage.
SG anticipates the yearly increase in hourly minimum wage until it reaches $15 in 2026, per the 2020 Florida minimum wage legislation, will impact SG’s ability to compensate 60 senators beyond their current $10 hourly wage.
Manka said as of now, the wages are likely not an immediate concern of SG and instead are more problematic for 2023 when the minimum wage rises to $12. However, Manka said budgetary conflicts can arise as soon as this year depending on if new initiatives get approved on top of the dollar increased wages.
St. Pete campus SG Chief of Staff Yamaris Rodriguez said the bulk of the funding that provides SG the means to pay their senators comes from activity and service fees. SG operations received $1.04 million for the 2021-22 academic year, according to an April 2021 Oracle article.
SG’s current budgetary model would have to be revamped to maintain the 60 student senators to accommodate the increasing minimum wage while working with the same budget.
“We won’t have enough money to pay every single senator or every single position,” Rodriguez said. “We wanted to make a fiscally responsible decision for the students at USF and for us, but they will still get the representation that they should have.”
Manka said the existence of Campus Council negates the necessity of 60 senators. The council houses 30 total student representatives and seats are proportionally assigned to the campuses by their population. The Tampa campus has 12 seats while St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee both have nine.
Some of the council’s responsibilities, such as approving student organization travel grants and tending to off-campus events requests, relieve duties formerly assigned to the Senate.
By lowering to 40 seats, the Senate will focus on retaining a diverse representation of each campus’ population and maintaining efficiency for their reduced catalog of duties, according to Rodriguez.
Having the Senate divided into four standing committees — policy, ethics, relations and finance — Rodriguez is confident that 40 seats is a sufficient number to represent all campuses.
“We made sure each committee would have enough people to be able to do the work that they should be doing,” she said. “It is actually going to help increase efficiency with our senators and Senate as a whole.”
If the student body were to vote against the revision, SG would be forced to hold a special election in the summer to fill the remaining 20 seats and satisfy constitutional requirements. Manka predicts a rejection of the amendment would increase the overall burden of cost and inefficiencies for SG.
“Since SG must follow the Student Body Constitution, then they would have to fund those positions from their budget which may mean, or not mean, cuts in other areas that are not constitutionally mandated,” he said.
Both Manka and Rodriguez don’t see any downfalls to the potential change to the total number of senators and believe it will be a positive change for the SG infrastructure.
“We have intelligent students at USF and I personally feel that they will pass the upcoming amendments during the general election voting period Feb. 28 to March 3,” Manka said.
For students with concerns that the removal of seats will lessen the opportunity to include greater diversity within SG, Rodriguez encourages them to participate and become that diversity.
“If you don’t see the diversity you want, you have to become the diversity. You have to get in there,” she said.