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Blood in the Boardroom: Budget Battles Divide Senate

It was a long, bitter meeting for ASUO Senators last night, as battle lines were drawn in the fight for fiscal responsibility. The Program Finance Committee, which funds student groups, and the EMU Board both had hearings before the Senate on their budget benchmarks, which are their spending goals for the next school year. Take away all the bickering, whining, weeping and petty retaliation, and you’re left with a few important numbers:

ADFC benchmark: 7%
PFC benchmark: 2.5%
EMU benchmark: 5.5%

The Good Stuff (TM) is after the jump…
The Responsibility Revolution
After early presentations (more on that later) the Senate dove right into the tough stuff, beginning with the PFC benchmark. As per policy, both the PFC and the Executive made recommendations for the benchmark, at 5.75% increase and 5% increase respectively (keeping in mind that a 7% increase is the maximum allowed benchmark.) Almost immediately, certain Senators began to make clear that 5% growth in program funding was simply not going to fly, given the huge budget surplus and cash funds that currently exist. This turned into complaints about the PFC process in general, the lack of concern for steady incidental fee increase, and the fact that nearly all of last years budget increases came back in rolled over surplus. That’s right folks, the Senate atually tried to take a stand against the business-as-usual of steady budget increases, by sending the PFC a mandate to cut the fat, and a vote was taken on a 0% benchmark for the PFC. Senators Kinsey, McKenzie, Pinson, Daniels, Papailiou and Justice all stuck their necks out to vote aye on the 0% proposal, giving voice to the growing movement towards real reform of the ASUO. Sadly, this noble gesture failed, giving way to further rounds of argument and negotiation.

The Empire Strikes Back
The big-spending majority of the Senate, including nearly every member of the Axelrod slate were not going to take an attack on the PFC sitting down. In defense of the 5% benchmark, Senators and PFC members spoke of the huge increases in Current Service Level (CSL) costs, which accounts for budget increases needed to simply maintain current services. Another favorite defence was that programs would not be able to grow if the benchmark were set below 5%, an argument which ignored the calls for programs to be funded based on objective analysis of a programs contributions, not simply how much they spent last year. This would allow groups who truly deserve budget growth to get it, while trimming the abundant fat to keep the budget under-benchmark, facts lost on the five-percenters who spoke of across-the-board cuts, students being payed less than minimum wage (huh?), and the fact that reduction in the PFC benchmark did not guarantee a reduction in the incidental fee. Senators even went as far as to claim that other Senators “are not involved in groups, and should not rush to cut them, or think of them as expendable,” without stopping to think that perhaps their own involvement with groups made them perhaps a little too eager to keep the benchmark high, and their affiliated groups budget increases on track.

A proposal for a 1% PFC benchmark was quickly rejected, as was a 2% increase. Just when it seemed that the five-percenters were going to hold out untill the reformers compromised their way to the desired number, a few fence-sitters jumped when Senator McKenzie proposed a 2.5% increase. In addition to Kinsey, Mckenzie, Pinson, Daniels, Papailiou and Justice, Rosenberg, Sherrick, and the new Senators Ebner and Tripp jumped on the middle compromise, passing the bill setting the PFC’s benchmark at it’s lowest rate in years. Senators Sherrick and Rosenberg demonstrated their moderate credentials by tipping the balance against the big-spending block, and Senators Ebner and Tripp have clearly started their Senate careers on the right foot, bringing sanity and common ground to a Senate badly in need of both. Not everyone was happy about the decision however, as at least one Senator was observed openly weeping at the result during the brief recess after the vote, bringing new meaning to the saying “a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy.”

The Retaliatory Strike
This displeasure was clearly shared by other five-percenters, as after a relatively calm vote on the EMU benchmark, Senator Guerra made a motion to rescind the ADFC benchmark which was set at the 7% maximum at last weeks meeting. Throughout the PFC discussion, Senators had whined that it “wasn’t fair” that the ADFC was getting a 7% increase, while PFC was getting slashed. Of course this ignores the fact that the ADFC has to finance tickets for an extra home game next year, completely throwing their budget off, which is why the Senate approved the abnormally high increase the week before. But if the PFC patrons were getting their funds cut, everyone was going to suffer… or so they thought. Because of Senate rules, only Senators who voted against, or abstained from the 7% benchmark, leaving Senator Guerra in the akward position of asking ADFC members who had abstained from the vote to second his motion to rescind. Although Senator Hamilton grudgingly seconded the motion, it was seen as the petty partisan move that it was, and it promptly failed.

The Opportunity Cost
Debate is a great thing. The stand taken against runaway program spending, and the resulting legislative knife fight was very necessary for the Senate, but everything has opportunity costs, and in this case the costs were high. Because so much time was spent on benchmarks, the Senate was rushed into passing Senate Bill 19 and Senate Bill 23, basically abandoning much-needed oversight on the mechanisms and goals for overrealized fund spending. While these bills are decent, they certainly could be better, and it is a shame that there was not even real questioning of key provisions such as the lumping of all proposals into one of two “appropriations packages,” and the lack of students on the Ad Hoc Committee.
Other Business
Before the whole benchmark party kicked off, the Senate preliminarily approved an initiative to make the Universities dining services serve only certified cage-free eggs. The bill will be sent to the rules committee, and further discussed before final approval at a later meeting. Unfortunately, no-one actually knew how much this change would actually cost, making any analysis of it premature at this point. Also, the Senate was treated to a 20 minute video on suicide awareness to start the evening, in what was probably a smart move… if anyone is at risk of suicide, it would be the poor souls who are forced to spend their Wednesday evenings in the Boardroom. On the other hand, maybe increasing Senate meetings by 20 minutes would be enough to push a few over the edge. By the time I dragged my sorry carcass out of the EMU after midnight, I certainly felt like staring into the abyss… luckily a fast, effective cure is available, and it’s called “Jubelale,” just ask your doctor.

  1. Timothy says:

    I’d rather see Salma Hayek than God, when God smiles there’s nothing but trouble…although I certainly take your meaning.

  2. Niedermeyer says:

    Speaking of liquor and speed, can I get a HELL YEAH on the fact that there’s no Senate meeting tonight?

    No four hour meeting, no trying to make some sense of the madness for the blog post… It’s like looking up to see the face of God smiling at you.

  3. Daniels says:

    Toby, good to hear from you. I wish you were still on Senate, although I know you are happy as hell to be out of here.

  4. Timothy says:

    Optimism won’t get you through the night, Ted. Only massive amounts of liquor and speed can do that.

  5. Niedermeyer says:

    Hey Toby, at least the PFC benchmark is at it’s lowest level in a while. Please, a little optimism… it’s the only thing keeping me going

  6. Toby says:

    God forbid someone lower the incidental fee. I love when the students are over charged one million dollars one year, then the current leadership demands for more money. Hey, lets make those free concerts a quarterly thing, I think that is a great use of student funds. This years Senate is more of a joke that last year’s. Walkout anyone…. it seems that will come next

  7. Doomscheissah says:

    Is that Sara our lovely ASUO President, Sara Hamilton, by perchance?

  8. Sara says:

    Lol, he’s dead.
    That’s not necessarily true, because hypothetically if it does get vetoed, then that means only 2.5% is out of the question, because Senate most likely won’t have 2/3 vote to override it. Any other number though would still require a simply majority. That means if it gets vetoed it could go either way, being passed at a higher percent OR a lower percent. It would be a true gamble. But hopefully Senate won’t have to deal with that; we’re still waiting on a ruling from Con Court whether it is even constitutional to veto.

  9. Jacque says:

    lol…so much to say on that that I am just going to leave it alone…

  10. hesdead says:

    Yeah good point Mr. Daniels. There will be at least 8 EXTREMELY POed Senators at Jared.. He’ll never recover…he’ll be dead

  11. Doomscheisser says:

    You can say that again, Mr. Daniels

  12. Daniels says:

    This is a step in the right direction. Lets just hope there are no attempts at an executive veto.

  13. Timothy says:

    Dude, there is no principle higher than “mock the weak”. But I will wait, though I reserve the right to brood at you. And to demand faster publication while telling the kids to get off of my lawn and pointing a shotgun full of rock salt at them.

  14. Doomscheissah says:

    YAY for Hate and Taters!

  15. Niedermeyer says:

    OK folks, here’s the deal. Everyone who was at the meeting saw what happened, and basically no one else really cares. It has become fairly clear that a sizeable portion of the Senate now sees the light on the fiscal responsibility issue, and I’d rather let that movement grow on it’s merits rather than by mocking it’s opponents. Don’t get me wrong, I would love nothing more than to savage a number of Senators for a number of very good reasons, but giving fiscal responsibility a chance to take hold is worth holding back from mocking a crying child. Your patience with my overly principled stand will be rewarded come the Hate Issue, and the Tater Awards… I promise.

  16. Doomscheissah says:

    The only ones that I know of that could have cried anything would have been Senator Guerra or Senator SunOwen.

    I believe it’s the former.

  17. Timothy says:

    Wait wait, a Senator cried and the OC isn’t mocking that person in public? Have I stepped into bizzaro world?

  18. Niedermeyer says:

    Jacque: We agree on a lot, you’re just a lot more optimistic than I. The lines of battle were clearly drawn last night… by the end of the evening, you could basically predict how everyone would vote. Luckily the Senate has enough decorum to act cordial (I give Sara a lot of credit for this), but y’all definately are divided.

    As for the process, the real power now lies with the “Appropriations Commitee,” in other words, Senators Lleras, Daniels, Kinsey, Mannis, Hamilton, Sherrick, Ebner and Gulley. They need to understand that in order to make the ASUO healthy again, this money needs to be used in some way that benefits all students. Senators have got to understand that just because there is no convenient mechanism for bringing down surpluses and the I-fee, doesn’t mean it’s not their duty to make these things happen. If no regard is paid to where this money came from, but rather it is a) spent on a worthless monument to the gullibility of the student body or b) spent in a way that does not benefit ALL students, this Senate will go down in memory as the Senate that wasted or unfairly redistributed one million dollars.

    In the short term, this committee has got to make up for the failings of the I-fee budgetary process. In the long term something really should be done about the whole shebang, which is why I thank god every day that I’m out of here come spring. Any meaningfull change of any kind always comes slowly… I just want momentum to be headed in the right direction. I think that on some level the majority of Senators know what the right thing to do here is, and this gives me hope.

  19. Jacque says:

    Also I just wanted to point out that everyone left in pretty good spirits and no one carried any grudges outside of the boardroom so “divided” maybe not such a good adjective… differences of opinions maybe… divide I don’t know…

  20. Jacque says:

    Hey hey now I think the long meeting speaks to the level of commitment that these senators have trying to do what is right by the Ifee and programs and students and…. BLAH! It’s enough to make your head spin. I think that, as some commentators pointed out, the problem is not that the I-Fee continually goes up but that the process in determining how it goes up and by how much is flawed. I think we still have done nothing to really truely fix that (if so we would have seen a 0% benchmark pass).

  21. Dustin says:


  22. Dustin says:

    At least that’s what their telling us today.

  23. Dustin says:

    Michelle is going to have the baby on Saturday….

  24. Niedermeyer says:

    Programs Finance Committee… we’ll put out an ASUO glossary soon.

    Oh, and I’ll call you back in a second, I’m in class right now.

  25. Dustin says:

    What does PFC stand for?

  26. Niedermeyer says:

    Yeah, the problem is more that if I throw a name out, I’m gonna want to point and say “ha-ha” too. Apparently this is “ethically questionable.”

    I will say this: I had already been left with little doubt as to this senators incomptetence before this episode. This simply confirmed it.

  27. Ian says:

    They’re public officials– if they’re so immature that they’re crying in the board room you should definitely report on it.

  28. Ian says:

    So there’s a million dollar surplus… and Senate is increasing funding to groups? And then Guerra and Hamilton are so petty that they attempt to slash a different budget?

    Watch, they’ll both be Oregon State Senators before too long.

    Before the whole benchmark party kicked off, the Senate preliminarily approved an initiative to make the Universities dining services serve only certified cage-free eggs.


    Unfortunately, no-one actually knew how much this change would actually cost, making any analysis of it premature at this point.

    Head…. spinning….

  29. Niedermeyer says:

    um, sorry, I should have scare quoted “journalist”

  30. Niedermeyer says:

    No, even I have my limits… as much as much as it kills me as a journalist

  31. Dallas says:

    Who cried?

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