Value is value, and waste is waste. A dollar of your money spent in Washington is no different than a dollar spent by our student government in Madison.
Every year University of Wisconsin students receive a bill ? as a supplement to tuition ? for a few hundred dollars in student-segregated fees. Segregated fees for 2007-08 amounted to $767.92 per student, which amounted to a grand total of $32,252,501. The most controversial component of these fees are still those spent by the Student Services Finance Committee on groups funded by General Student Service Funds ? student organizations that receive an annual budget of over a few thousand dollars. While SSFC has been criticized in the past, this year?s members have shown a marked improvement from the frustrating partisanship and fiscal irresponsibility of previous years.
First, we need some operational background of the committee and an overview of my ideology concerning its operation. SSFC carries out two major duties: giving eligibility for GSSF funds and budgeting for these funds. On both eligibility and budgets, I would call myself an archconservative in the ASM spectrum of politics. During my two years on the committee, I took an extremely strict interpretation of most of the eligibility criteria for GSSF funding and supported cutting or minimally funding almost every eligible group?s budget.
This year SSFC deserves a round of applause for leaving few line items without discussion. The fact that this deliberation occurred at all may seem trite, but it stands in stark contrast to committees in the past. In part, this
deliberation occurred as the result of a minor change in the rules. Last year, SSFC?s subcommittee ? its annual, internal reform body ? got rid of time limits on debate. This meant the one-third of members needed to hijack a budget and drive it to a premature vote can no longer end important discussion with the nefarious arguments of ?I?m too tired and want to finish this budget already? or ?I don?t want us to even talk about cutting anything more.?
Moreover, the attitude of the committee itself took a major turn for the better. Members acted with far more civility than in years past ? the comparative nastiness of my first year on SSFC in 2005-06 looked like a world war ? not allowing professional, ideological or political disputes to become personal and cloud their fiscal and procedural judgment. The responsibility for this positive change in deliberative atmosphere lies in the committee?s outstanding leadership this year, as well as in its just-as-important lay members.
On eligibility, this year?s committee performed admirably. Fiscally, eligibility remains a fantastic way to defund groups before they even receive a budget. Adjusting for groups that transferred into another account of fees, the committee cut GSSF funds for 2008-09 by 23.91 percent, or $633,711, compared to an increase of 0.62 percent from 2007-08.
From a legal standpoint, the committee performed exceptionally. It interpreted eligibility criteria far more diligently, homing in on the phrase requiring a ?significant component? of programming beyond just events and leadership activities. This does not just please conservatives; it makes sense from a variety of SSFC political perspectives.
In fact, SSFC member Adam Porton, who vehemently disagrees with my conservative philosophy concerning segregated fees, said the new interpretation of the criteria formed an integral part of the committee?s operating philosophy this year ? ?Providing necessary services while having seg fee sustainability.? SSFC Chair Alex
Gallagher views the new interpretation of the criteria so positively that he sees great merit in institutionalizing the new interpretation in the bylaws: ?I think this is necessary to see a sustainable fund in future years.? The committee deserves to be commended for taking such steps, but when we leave eligibility for budgets, I am still not too pleased.
Adjusting for groups that were denied eligibility or transferred into another account of fees, SSFC did increase GSSF funds 6.07 percent for 2008-09 ? although this is far better than the previous year?s similarly adjusted, massive 21.10 percent increase. 6.07 percent stands a couple points above projected numbers for inflation so ? as a fiscal conservative ? it does make me angry.
I am further irked because many groups could adequately fulfill their mission with more reasonable wages ? the minimum wage this year for GSSF groups was an astronomical $9.19/hr ? and less for staff and programming. I am also concerned about the large proposed increase in the ASM Finance Committee?s events and travel grants budget, since it arguably shifts many of the cuts to GSSF into increases in ASM?s internal budget. This largely caused ASM?s proposed 2008-09 internal budget to skyrocket a whopping 31.3 percent to $1,062,783 ? although, in all fairness, it does not eat up all of SSFC?s cuts ? adjusting for groups transferred to other fee accounts ? of $633,711.
Overall, however, the committee deserves a round of applause. It made enormous improvements in terms of the atmosphere of the committee and the eligibility process. Even fiscally, compared to committees in the past, they tightened budgets considerably ? although surely not as much as I would like. There is plenty of work left for future committees, especially on the fiscal front, but this year was a significant step toward a more sustainable and responsible GSSF funding system. We are slowly getting closer to a GSSF system that minimizes waste and maximizes value.
David Lapidus ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in economics and mathematics.