Op-Ed: ASSU Appropriations Committee: Goals and Methods

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Over the past couple of months, there has been a wave of criticism directed toward the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. As chair of Appropriations, I think it is my duty to clarify some misconceptions that have been circulating and provide our perspective on the issue.

I believe that it is critical to remind the student body of the financial climate in which the ASSU has been operating this past fiscal year. With the economic downturn and the funding tendencies of the past Senate, the 11th Undergraduate Senate has been under a lot of pressure to control spending and establish a sustainable framework for the ASSU’s financial system.

With Regard to the General Fee

Last year, the Appropriations Committee overspent the General Fee budget by over $114,000. Fortunately, Stanford Student Enterprises keeps a reserve fund in the case of such excesses. Had the Appropriations Committee continued to allocate funds at the same rate as last year, the reserve fund would have been depleted and the ASSU would have been in the red within 4 years.

With Regard to Special Fees

Last year, the Appropriations Committee recommended over $1.8 million is Special Fees. Since then, the refund rates for Special Fees groups have sky rocketed. As the size of the system has consistently gotten bigger from year to year, the financial strain on the student body has dramatically increased – going from $96 per student per quarter to $119 in just 3 years. The refund rates have gotten so high that they are already directly affecting groups’ budgets and thereby their programming.

The Committee’s Response

These were the conditions we faced when we got into office. If nothing had been done, the programming of all VSOs on campus would have been in serious peril within 4-5 years. The Appropriations Committee has been striving to get spending under control in order to secure the long-term financial stability of the ASSU. We have spent our time and effort not to block programming, as some would proclaim, but rather to enable it in the long run. Our duty is also to the future generations of Stanford students.

Therefore, the Committee has actively pursued this goal by setting a cap on the General Fee budget and by revising our funding policies accordingly. These policies have been guiding every one of our decisions since. Contrary to what some people have said, short of their registrations as community service or programming groups, the Appropriations Committee abstracts from the purpose of the groups and focuses singularly on how their funding requests relate to the policies.

With Regard to Transparency

This year’s Committee has made unprecedented efforts toward transparency and VSO involvement. Since the beginning of the year, I have made a point of consistently contacting all VSO Presidents and financial officers to inform them of changes in policy. Furthermore, every member of the Appropriations Committee attends weekly office hours at SAL to answer questions and help groups with their budgets.

Throughout the Special Fees process, the Committee and the Elections Commission have held multiple info sessions and office hours and have constantly been on email in order to facilitate application for groups. The Appropriations Committee has done all it can on its side to facilitate exchange and communication. Now, we challenge student leaders to do their part in engaging us and proposing reforms, rather than simply complaining.

Conclusion

The latest public characterizations of the Appropriations Committee have been misguided. We have simply been taking into consideration the big-picture fairness of the funding process, the monetary burdens imposed on the entire student body, and the long-term health of the ASSU’s financial system.

Anton Zietsman, Chair of the Appropriations Committee

– Kelsei Wharton, ASSU Senator

– Alex Katz, ASSU Senator

– Brian Wanyoike, ASSU Senator

– Dean Young, ASSU Senator

– Mohammad Ali, ASSU Senator

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