Breaking down the budget bill

Madison White
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Nathan Tolfa
NEWS EDITOR

Visual Budget Breakdown-1.jpg

After a month of proposals, revisions, and debate, the Associated Students of Whittier College (ASWC) Senate approved the Budget Distribution Bill on Feb. 25 by a margin of 14 – 1. The Budget Distribution Bill is an overhaul of the allocation process, by which Student Body Fees are allocated to clubs and organizations. Prior to the bill’s passage, governing bodies were able to keep leftover funds from semester to semester in independent reserve accounts, only to be accessed by their respective organizations. 

Proponents for the bill believe that this makes the process of accessing funds more transparent and equitable. “This bill will make organizations put more time and thought into how the money they have been allocated is spent in order to benefit the student body in its entirety,” said Program Board (PB) Director Jessica Hernandez in a statement to the Quaker Campus (QC). Opponents of the bill believe that organizations like Media Council (MC) benefit from having autonomy over their reserve accounts. “I do believe that the bill as it is structured does leave Media Council and its constituent organizations more vulnerable to infringements on their rights as a free press, should a future Senate or executive board bear them ill will,” said  fourth-year MC Representative Astra Yatroussis, the lone vote against the bill. “I believe a better solution, which allows for both accountability and respect for freedom of the press, could have been achieved had due time and diligence been given to the bill.”

 The QC has provided ongoing coverage of the bill, which, along with the bill in its entirety, can be found at thequakercampus.org. This week, we will outline why this bill matters, as well as explain what the bill does and does not do.

Why it matters: 

– The Budget Distribution Bill could potentially affect upwards of $100,000. Both PB and MC have substantial reserve accounts, and they receive the bulk of the total funding provided by Senate for constituent bodies (97 percent for both combined), which is why our coverage primarily centers around these two governing bodies. 

– Proponents for this bill argue that the funds held in reserve accounts come from student body fees, which are automatically included in each student’s tuition and fees semesterly. Because of this, supporters of the bill have stated that having money in reserve accounts is not the best use of Student Body Fees, and leftover money should be accessible to all students as soon as possible.

– Senate cut funding for MC by 11.5 percent in Fall of 2016, an action which went into effect in Fall of 2017. During the 2017 – 18 academic year, MC made an intentional effort to build up its reserve account in order to make necessary, large-scale purchases all at the same time. “Previous chairs have understood that it is smart to replace gear in bulk so as to assure that everything operates concisely and effectively, and so that no additional expenses will be incurred if separate people, over several years, try to replace gear piece by piece,” said MC chair fourth-year Lyla Matar. “While a bad solution would be to buy a lot cheap things for temporary usage, the purchasing of quality gear ensures the best usage of funds and for our organizations.”

– The Budget Redistribution Bill does boost MC’s budget nearly back to pre-2017 levels, as we will discuss further in the article, but it removes the safety net allotted to MC by the reserve account. A primary concern from MC officials is that the semesterly budget will get cut back down as happened in 2016, and not have the reserve accounts to fall back on.

– This bill would change the process of accessing funds after a semesterly budget has been exhausted; right now, MC and PB can dip into reserve accounts before having to request funds from Senate. “My strong support in the implementation of this bill does not stem from that fact that PB is allocated more money, but from the idea that oversight and transparency are important, and this bill does that,” Director Hernandez wrote.

What it does: 

– Previously, organizations under the umbrella of ASWC Senate were able to keep leftover funds from their semesterly budget. By severely limiting the amount of money PB and MC can retain from semester to semester, Senate hopes to make the process more equitable to other, smaller organizations. Although currently any organization on campus can come to MC or PB to request funds, it is unlikely students know about this option. For example, no outside constituent bodies have made a funding request from MC this academic year.

– The funds absorbed into the overall Senate reserve account at the end of the academic year only include money allocated from student body fees and not any funds raised by the organization individually.

– Under the bill, all organizations other than PB and MC must turn over their leftover funds at the end of each semester. PB and MC are each permitted to store up to $10,000 in their respective reserve accounts to carry over into the next semester.

– According to the bill, a designated representative from both PB and MC must meet with the ASWC Treasurer once per month “concerning their account and expenditure history, along with their planned programs.”

The bill allows PB and MC to access their funds four weeks prior to the start of the academic year, understanding that these two organizations tend to begin work prior to the start of the school year.

What it does not do:

– It does not cut the semesterly budget for any organization on campus. The percentage of the budget allocated to all organizations remains the same, including MC and PB. However, because the bill creates the ASWC Senate Allocations Account, which oversees every club and governing body on campus aside from Senate, the amount of funding available to clubs will be higher. 

– It does not allow organizations other than PB and MC to have a reserve account. It requires all other governing bodies, like Social Justice Coalition, Poet Student Athlete Leadership Alliance (PSALA), or Inter-Society Council (ISC) to give back any leftover money at the end of the semester. However, no other organizations aside from PB and MC must meet with the ASWC Treasurer each month.

– The bill has already gone into effect, but no reserve funds will be absorbed into the overall ASWC Reserves Account until after the Spring 2019 semester is completed.

Controversy regarding voting:

– As the QC has previously reported, a version of this bill was introduced on Feb. 4, at the first Senate meeting of the semester. This version of the bill did not include a cap for MC or PB, nor did it include provisions about meeting with the ASWC Treasurer for continual transparency about where funds were going. MC was not told that a bill was being introduced at the Feb. 4 meeting, despite informal conversations about such a Bill taking place between Senate Executive Board (EBoard) and MC in Fall semester. Senate proposed to fast-track the bill at the Feb. 4 meeting, but decided not to vote on fast tracking, as they felt the table’s discussion that night was inconclusive.

–Although MC was unaware the bill was being introduced by members of EBoard, PB Director Jessica Hernandez (who has a non-voting seat on EBoard) did have input on the bill prior to its introduction— both in its original and revised forms. “We did not intend to make anyone feel like their opinions or concerns were not valued or taken into consideration,” wrote Hernandez. “Rather, we had conversations with the parties who would be affected and took a step that needed to be taken and should have been done a long time ago.”

– EBoard cannot vote on bills, but the bill in its current form — the first version was retracted and removed from consideration and public view on OrgSync — is sponsored by ASWC Senate Vice President Yvan Monreal, Treasurer Jesus Delgado, and PB Director Jessica Hernandez, in addition to MC Representative Astra Yatrousis. “I think we are going in circles with this discussion, and we need to trust that our EBoard will not lead us in the wrong direction,” said Commuter Representative Hagan-Martin on the night the Table voted on the bill. “This bill is what is best for the student body and it is necessary we move this process forward.”

– The QC has reached out to all current Senators and EBoard members about the Distribution Bill for the purposes of this article, and only Representative Yatrousis, Director Hernandez, and Lyla Matar — who is not a Senator but has a position on MC comparable to Director Hernandez — responded. Because of this lack of response, it is difficult for us to identify the level of constituent outreach Representatives performed in regards to this bill. 

– At the Student Feedback Forum on March 5, the Male PSALA Representative Jacob Eccles indicated that he had not spoken to his constituents about this bill because the legislative cycle had taken place in between his regularly scheduled monthly meetings where he receives feedback and input.

– Female Inner Society Council Representative Kelsey Sherman confirmed at the Forum that she had spoken with her constituents about the Bill and they did not voice any opposition, though she acknowledged their meeting took place during Feb.’s New Member Education process, which may have impacted the level of engagement her constituents had. Sherman ultimately voted in favor of the bill; however she voted in favor of postponing the bill’s vote for another week.  

This article concludes the QC’s coverage on the Budget Distribution Bill as it stands. If the bill is amended or any other legislation is proposed that would impact the bill, we will report any updates.