GUSA Round-up: The Senate passes funding reform, strips advisory boards of votes
If we learned anything about the GUSA Senate this Monday night it’s that they have a USPS-like devotion to braving the elements. As the rest of the school buckled down for our second-consecutive snow day, the Senate reaffirmed that neither snow nor gloom of night would interfere with its commitment to legislating.
And legislate it did, slogging through a two-hour discussion before passing the controversial Act to Modify the By-laws to Improve Student Activities Funding by a vote of 19 to four. The bill will strip advisory boards of their votes on allocating the Student Activities Fee, giving control of the process to GUSA’s Finance and Appropriations Committee.
The meeting opened with a period of public comment on the bill. The three student who spoke all expressed opposition to the changes. Nick Calta (COL ’10), Chair of the Advisory Board for Club Sports, cautioned that the bill would create “the potential for really wide fluctuations in funding”; a representative from the Center for Social Justice decried the adversarial tone of the debate and urged senators to think about “what kind of leadership this legislation is promoting”; and former GUSA Senator and current GUSA Presidential Candidate Matt Wagner (SFS ’11) warned that it would be “a huge mistake” to pass the bill.
After a quick executive briefing—in which GUSA President Calen Angert (MSB ’11), when asked by a Senator about his stance, said he “fully endorsed” the bill—the act’s co-sponsors, Senators Nick Troiano (COL ’11, Village A: A-D) and Colton Malkerson (COL ’13, Harbin 2-5), gave their spiel about bill, explaining what exactly it would change and why they believe it is necessary.
Troiano explained that this was the third step in what will be a comprehensive overhaul of the funding system (the first and second being the creation of the GUSA Fund and the six-point advisory board reforms, respectively) and that giving GUSA power over the purse will help make it a “legitimate and relevant student government.”
Before the Senate could get to discussing the overall merit of the bill, though, they had to consider a few amendments to the legislation. The first set—which allows for some faculty oversight of the budgeting process, require the FinApp Committee to present their allocation decisions to the general Senate and invites advisory boards to alert the Senate if their FinApp representative isn’t attending their meetings—passed unanimously with little debate.
The next amendment, to require FinAp members to attend a comprehensive information session about the funding process, ran into some problems when its sponsor, Adam Mortillaro (COL ’12, Henle 1-48) realized he hadn’t consulted any administrators to see if this would actually be possible. Luckily Director of Student Programs Erika Cohen Derr was on hand and said she’d be happy to help. The amendment was then approved unanimously.
Mortillaro’s second amendment, to create a formal appeals process for advisory boards that feel they have not been allocated adequate funds, was not so popular. Although many senators said they would feel more comfortable voting for a bill with a more regularized appeals process, the bill’s co-sponsors insisted that clubs would have enough chances to informally lobby the FinApp Committee, the Senate and the Executive (who would all have a chance to make amendments to the allocation). Ultimately, the Senate decided that the amendment—which had been written out hastily during the meeting and was short on specifics about how the appeals process would work—wasn’t deliberative enough and that they could revisit the issue of a formal appeals process at a later meeting.
With the amendments out of the way, debate on the bill itself started … only to be put to an abrupt halt when Senator Arman Ismail (COL ’11, Reynolds), who is also running for GUSA President, made a motion to table the bill in order to get more constituent feedback and devote more time to the appeals issue.
Troiano came out strong against tabling the bill for a week, saying that the Senate needed to take action if the new funding structure could come into effect this year.
“We are up against the clock,” Troiano said. “Advisory boards do need to have a budget for this year … I think people know I’m process-oriented, but there comes a time when things need to come to a vote.”
Although a handful of other Senators joined Ismail in voicing concern about not having enough time to react to their constituents’ concerns about the bill, the Senate voted seven to 16 not to table the legislation.
Finally, debate on the bill itself started. For all the lengthy build-up, there wasn’t that much heated discussion. Some senators wondered whether the general Seante would be informed enough to serve as an adequate check on the FinApp committee, or whether it would just approve their decisions at face value (Troiano’s response: “[It is] a question of personal responsibility”). Others wondered whether this was an improper response to SAC’s past sins (Troiano’s response: “It’s not a punitive measure, it’s in response to a fundamentally flawed [allocation] system”).
But aside from some contentious debate over whether the Senate should take a short recess before voting—some, like Senator Yasmin Serrato (SFS ’13, At Large), wanted time to discuss the bill with some of the students present while others, like Troiano and Speaker Adam Talbot (COL ’12, LXR), insisted there had been adequate opportunity for public comment at the start of the meeting; Serrato’s side was ultimately granted a 10 minute recess—the debate was pretty calm.
When the Senators returned from recess (with a few rather partisan substitutions for GUSA Senators who had to leave early: former College Democrats Vice President Fitz Lufkin (COL ’11), who has been vocally supportive the reforms, and Wagner, who made his opinions known earlier in the evening, stepped in as proxies), they got down to the business of voting.
Since the bill is technically a by-law to the GUSA Constitution, it requires two-thirds approval, meaning at least 16 of the 23 senators present had to vote for it in order for it to pass. With only four senators voting against—Ismail, Serrato (who used Wagner as a proxy), Nolan Johnson (COL ’11, Village A: A-H), and Shaalin Parekh (MSB ’12, Copley)—and 19 voting in favor, the bill passed handily. According to Troiano, the changes will go into effect for the next Student Activities Fee allocation process this spring.
GUSA FUND APPOINTEES: After the marathon bill debate, the Senate sped through the appointment process for the last two members of the GUSA Fund. Kate Petersen (COL ’11)—a former SAC Commissioner—and Yasin Yaqubie (COL ’11) were both approved unanimously.
G’TOWN SAMARITANS: In their executive briefing, Angert and Vice President Jason Kluger (MSB ’11) presented their newest initiative, G’town Samaritans. The program is designed to foster better relations between students and neighbors, and got off to start this weekend when participants helped shovel snow out for neighbors.