Student fees will not be raised to fund renovations to the Wisconsin Unions, but many university employees stand to receive higher wages as a result of Tuesday's student-government election outcome.
In an Associated Students of Madison referendum election that witnessed a record level of participation — a reported 22.4 percent — students voted in favor of the Living Wage referendum but against the Wisconsin Union Facilities Improvement Plan.
If it had passed, the Wisconsin Union referendum would have raised student fees by a maximum of $96 per student, per semester for up to 30 years to partially fund a project to renovate Memorial Union and build a new South Campus Union. In the closer of the two referendum votes, the Wisconsin Union referendum was defeated by 695 votes — killing the plan with 54 percent of the student vote.
Prior to the election, the referendum was often criticized for mandating an increase to student-segregated fees.
Eric Varney, chair of ASM, was one of the most vocal opponents to the referendum, saying the cost of the renovation project would create an undue burden on students.
Tuesday, Varney said he was pleased to see the student body vote down the referendum.
"I think students were smart about what they did," Varney said. "Hopefully, they can find other alternatives for funding [the Union renovations]."
But according to Shayna Hetzel, vice president of external relations for the Wisconsin Union Directorate, without the funding from student-segregated fees, the Union renovation project would not be able to move forward as planned; WUD sponsored the referendum.
"At this point, the plan in its current form will never happen," Hetzel said. "We will do what we can to salvage Memorial Union, but we will not have the historical renovation we hoped for."
Hetzel added that the necessary upgrades to bring Memorial Union's plumbing, fire and safety systems up to code will now have to be done more "piecemeal" and in a "patchwork" fashion.
Furthermore, Hetzel also said the future of Union South is not promising.
"Nothing will be done to Union South … we don't have the funding," Hetzel said, noting that there were "no guarantees" that Union South would remain a student Union. "It's unclear what will happen with that site."
The Student Labor Action Coalition-sponsored Living Wage referendum passed by 1,108 votes and aims to raise the wages of many university workers; of the more than 8,500 students who voted, 62 percent approved the Living Wage referendum.
Explicitly, the referendum will no longer allow ASM to allocate student fees to "auxiliary budgets" — which include the Wisconsin Unions, University Health Services and UW recreational sports — that do not pay workers a wage equal to or greater than 110 percent of the federal poverty line. Those "auxiliary budgets" are often dependent on student-segregated fees to operate, receiving more than $18 million in student-segregated fees this past year.
SLAC members said they were "ecstatic" with the outcome of the election.
"Students are standing with workers on this campus, fighting poverty wages," SLAC representative Joel Feingold said. "[UW] administrators are good people, and I'm sure they will follow the democratic will of the students."
Prior to the election, many questions were raised over what the ultimate outcome of the Living Wage referendum would be.
While SLAC members contended the referendum would raise the wages of many university employees, Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell suggested it would only eliminate student-government voice from the segregated fee allocation process for auxiliary budgets.
In previous interviews with The Badger Herald, Bazzell stated that ASM does not have the right to directly allocate student fees for auxiliary budgets, but rather can only make recommendations to the chancellor.
Tuesday, after the release of the election results, Bazzell said the university would do nothing but continue to work with ASM and submit budgets for their input.
"We will do what we always have done," Bazzell said. "We will share our budgets with all our students … we will continue to submit budgets as we always have."
People disagreeing with the outcome of the election will have five days to submit complaints to the Student Judiciary before the body certifies the results.
Though no formal complaints have been submitted yet, Tim Leonard, chair of the Student Election Commission, said the commission is investigating allegations of possible voter harassment.
Leonard said the commission received some complaints of students being "intimidated" while voting for the referendums by people posing as "booth attendants" at Gordon Commons.
One complaint mentioned SLAC member Ashok Kumar, who won a seat on the Dane County Board last night, by name, accusing him, along with others, of "forc[ing] their opinions on students as they were voting."
Online lections for Student Council seats will reopen today at 8 a.m. Elections for both the Student Council and the referendums were postponed last week after a "technical error" was found in the online voting system. However, the error has since been corrected, Leonard said.