To the amazement of our ASUC wallet, the senate finance committee began the year assuming far more fiscal conservatism than it has in previous years and established sound precedents. Unsurprisingly, disruption recently reversed this trend, and it was not based on rational reasoning but on rash financial legislation. Pandora’s Box was torn open as the ASUC Senate recently decided to fund charitable goods, reminding us that recipes of fiscal irresponsibility breed insurmountable deficits.
Allocating money is not an easy task, as evidenced by the recent stalemates of budget talks in Washington and Sacramento. When even financial and political experts cannot grasp the world of spending, how could anyone expect efficiency and fairness from a student government that has a multi-million dollar budget?
ASUC Senator Sadia Saifuddin, who is also the senate finance committee chair, does her best to lead a tight and fair ship. Honorariums, the allotted fees for the tasks of hired workers such as disk jockeys who work at campus events, have been slashed from this year’s financial allocations through the senate contingency fund. These costs pile up throughout the year, and cutting them makes room for more pressing financial needs in a time of economic decline.
Both the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and Pauley Ballroom will be out of commission for a significant portion of next year. As such, Senator Mihir Deo wisely asserted Monday night at the committee meeting that student groups would be granted half-waivers for non-ASUC venues since ASUC venues for which student groups normally receive half off will be under renovation. This balances financial obligations with the obligation to student groups during a time of reconstruction.
Sadly, clouds began to gather two weeks ago. Volunteers Around the World, an international volunteer organization at Berkeley, has an honorable and forthright mission to send a brigade of Berkeley students to aid impoverished countries with medical equipment and care. Student Action senators co-sponsored a bill last month to fund medical items for a VAW brigade of Cal students. Although philanthropy should be one of our fundamental values as human beings, the use of the already depleted senate contingency fund toward items of charity remains unacceptable. Reasonable financial requests consist of money for fliers to fund on-campus VAW events, fee waivers for fundraisers or VAW events highlighting students’ experiences abroad.
Providing money for a student group to purchase and distribute oral rehydration salts and multivitamins in a foreign country sets an alarming precedent, especially when the ASUC bylaws don’t even permit funding of transportation out of the country. VAW should be raising its own funds for these items and should first exhaust all possible grants and existing sponsorships.
At the finance committee meeting, Deo said that the bill should pass since “there’s nothing wrong with the budget and it has nothing to do with the soft caps.” This means that if anyone on campus created a philanthropic student group, they could come to the ASUC and ask for money to purchase clothes for the homeless or any other charitable item solely because it isn’t explicitly blacklisted. Since the ASUC deficit can barely absorb items for on-campus activities, these items should be distributed with alternative funds.
Student Action Senator Ryan Kang tried to justify the spending by explaining that the funds requested were a “tiny portion of what (VAW is) actually spending out of pocket.” Ten students do not justify the squandering of 30,000 students’ fees.
At the senate meeting Chini reasoned that the senators should reduce the spending to at least the amount that the combination of students in the group paid through student fees to the ASUC. Eventually, the senators did show some business acumen by reducing the bill amount from more than $800 dollars to $450. The crux of the issue — funding items for charity through student fees — was softened but not relieved by the reduction in funding.
Ultimately CalSERVE Senator Daley Vertiz pulled the bill onto the senate floor without the group present, and the senate cut its spending without the organization making its voice heard. The group should have been present to make its case and request more pertinent on-campus-related items.
VAW as an organization cannot be blamed, but the senators who misled it to think this was a fair budget should be. VAW said in an email to the senate that it “did not understand the exact reasons why (the) bill went from most likely to receive almost full funding to being cut in half.”
Wing Stop in the Bear’s Lair Pub pays $1 per month for rent, and all of the Lower Sproul Plaza businesses will be moving out over the course of this year. Renovations to Pauley Ballroom and Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union will halt revenue streams from room rentals. Saving seems to be our only savior in this financial crisis, since generating revenue appears grim. If it looks like Pandora’s box, smells like Pandora’s Box and tastes like Pandora’s Box, then it probably is Pandora’s Box. ASUC, curb your spending.
Contact Noah Ickowitz at [email protected]
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