The Student Association puts out its budget around this time each year. There’s about $2.3 million of student money at stake, and this year about $700,000 of that has been set aside for student groups.
Which groups get how much and why — as well as the allocation process itself — is fiercely contended and always a subject of scandal.
Plenty of people are mad, some groups invariably are getting screwed, other groups certainly are getting more than they deserve. But other than the occasional egregious miscarriage of justice — the past two years’ treatment of JUMP Nation comes to mind — most of this touch-and-go budgetary wrangling is all in the game.
The SA’s budget process is far from perfect in practice but, at least on paper, it makes sense on a basic level. Student groups make their case to Financial Council, an 11-member committee of SA Assembly representatives who ideally have some level of expertise on the subject.
FinCo is supposed to consider each group’s case, then vote on how much money it deserves. FinCo forms a tentative budget, hear appeals from student groups, then pass it on to the Assembly. In the final SA-wide meeting, individual representatives have the chance to motion for specific changes. After a long night, the budget is passed.
Again, the process never actually plays out perfectly. Many student groups aren’t properly prepped for their all-important FinCo meetings — that is, they don’t know what the committee wants to hear. FinCo sometimes makes snap decisions based on poor information or personal ideologies. Individual Assembly reps often lobby for their own groups or groups of their friends, instead of those that need help the most.
It’s not ideal, but we at least know what we’re dealing with. The basic shape of the student government is recognizable, as is the flow of policy. The SA’s budget is formulated in committee and worked out on the floor. Pretty similar to, say, western democratic norms.
But watching the annual shenanigans has us thinking about next year and what might be. On Wednesday, the student body will vote to pass or reject a complete overhaul of the SA. Among other things, of course, the budget process that we know and tolerate will be transformed. To what is anyone’s guess.
The SA’s new constitution, pending approval, leaves much to the imagination — especially when it comes to budget-crafting, which is easily the most important thing the SA does in a given year. The word “budget” is mentioned in the proposed constitution four times, compared to 15 times in the current constitution. Currently, budget procedures are laid out at length in the accompanying document to the SA’s constitution, the SA Bylaws, but there are no bylaws for the overhauled constitution as of now, because they’re being made behind closed doors.
The new constitution only dictates that FinCo present a budget to the Representative Council — which would be similar to the SA Executive Board of today, but larger in numbers and with broader powers — by April 1. The only other constitutional direction available is Article III, Section 2 (c)(ii)(a), which states, “A procedure for creating the budget proposal shall be established in this constitution and its bylaws.”
The current constitution, as mentioned, explicitly — if not redundantly — lays out how and when the yearly budget is formed. The new constitution does not.
We’re at a loss for how this will actually work, but we can imagine some dark roads. What if FinCo’s budget proposal goes straight to the Representative Council for approval? If this ends up being the case, that’s about 20 people having total control of a $2.3 million budget. Will the other committees have any input on student group funding? Will there be as robust of an appeals process for groups?
Given the heap of unknown variables, a vote for the new constitution is a vote for putting the SA budget process into the fiscal void. And considering just how important that budget is and how many students’ college lives are affected by it, we think that vote is too big a risk to take.