Facing low revenue, Sweeten proposes more USSA funding

    Despite an expected budget shortfall in the tens of thousands of dollars, A.S. President Christopher Sweeten has proposed increased payment for membership dues to the University of California Student Association and the United States Student Association as part of his most recent 2005-06 budget proposal.

    In recent years, UCSD has paid USSA — the only student association recognized by Congress and the White House — five cents per student per quarter rather than the approximately $1-per-student per-quarter payment that is now required for membership.

    In his preliminary budget proposal, Sweeten recommended that the council allocate $10,000, or approximately 50 cents per student, to USSA next year in order to make progress toward full membership.

    “We haven’t been paying them what we were supposed to be paying them,” Sweeten said. “We therefore do not get full participation in the association.”

    The dramatic increase in dues is due to a recent change in the organization’s fee system. According to USSA Organizing Director and former A.S. President Jenn Brown, a court ruling forced USSA to begin to charge universities based on their populations, rather than campus allocations. The change resulted in a large fee increase for UCSD, but the campus will have several years to meet the new fee requirement.

    “Since it is a significant increase on some campuses, we realize that it might take a few years [before schools can pay the full amount],” Brown said. “UCSD will still be able to vote if they pay fifty cents per student, as long as it is passed with the understanding that it is a step to full payment.”

    In addition, UCSA has increased its quarterly recommended membership fees from $1 to $1.20 per student for next year, though $1 is still the minimum for campuses.

    This school year, the A.S. Council spent a total of $22,425 on membership in the lobbying groups. The proposed hike would bring the grand total to $34,000, with the majority of the increases earmarked for USSA.

    According to Sweeten, full membership in USSA would allow UCSD to receive services, such as the Grass-Roots Organizing Weekend and the Electoral Action Training, free of charge. The 2005 G.R.O.W. event held at UCSD cost the council $3,000 and the E.A.T. program was originally allocated almost $2,000 before the item was cut from the current budget.

    The increase has proved controversial in the initial budget discussions among councilmembers. Thurgood Marshall College Senior Senator Kate Pillon said that she did not support the full boost because USSA does not impact students as much as UCSA does.

    “USSA is far away, and UCSA affects students,” Pillon said. “In a budget crisis like the one we are in, I would rather see us throwing our support behind UCSA fully.”

    In addition to the increased dues, the budget constraints facing the council include the addition of extra costs associated with stipends for employees of A.S. Lecture Notes, A.S. Soft Reserves and the UCSD Challenge Course, which is run jointly by the council and the university’s recreation department. These stipends are traditionally funded through the earnings of the enterprises, but must be included in the 2005-06 budget because of their low profits.

    Additionally, the council’s projected student fee revenue is currently estimated to be $100,000 less than the 2004-05 budget.

    In response, Sweeten has proposed cuts to almost every section of the A.S. budget, with only the USSA and UCSA membership fees, lobbying funds and administrative salaries receiving increases. As part of the wide-ranging cuts, the programming line item, which funds events such as the Sun God festival, may see reductions of more than $16,000, if approved. In addition, the Student Organizations Unallocated division, which manages money set aside for on-campus groups, would lose more than $15,000.

    Student Affirmative Action Coalition Representative Jacob Davis said that, although on-campus services more directly benefit students, the lobbying groups provided substantial returns.

    “If we don’t pay for [the increases], we lose the service,” Davis said. “If we do pay for it, it takes money away from other things that directly affect students. But it affects future students and I support [the increases].”

    Some members of the council, including interim Earl Warren College Freshman Senator Ben Sumner, said that they support the increases.

    “It is better to have an organization that is dedicated to lobbying,” Sumner said. “If we decide to be a part [of the organizations], then we need to pay our fees.”

    Pillon, however, said that she did not support these increases considering the current budgetary constraints.

    “I would love for us to be a full member [in USSA], but I do not see us as having the money,” Pillon said. “Too much is getting cut too drastically. I would like to see more money go to college councils.”

    In the previous school year, the college councils received a base-allocation from Associated Students of $3,500, as well as 50 cents per student. In the current draft of the budget, however, Sweeten has proposed an allocation of 70 cents per student with no base allocation. As a result, smaller colleges, such as Sixth College, would receive substantially smaller allocations than in previous years.

    Former A.S. Vice President External Rigo Marquez said, however, that membership in the lobbying organizations provides many tangible benefits for the campus.

    “[They] give us a voice that we need,” Marquez said. “Students may not see the results, but we’re lobbying in Sacramento and Oakland to keep our fees low. If we don’t have people paying attention, [the Regents and UC Office of the President] can take advantage of us.”

    Discussions over the final version of the budget will continue over the next few weeks.

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