Awkward, personal and heated debate broke out at the Student Government Association meeting Tuesday as concern arose over its proposed budget.
Student Body President Ramiro Jaime, Jr., placed his budget up for Senate vote only to be met with a counter-budget, neither of which were approved. He also said because of the lack of action during the meeting, SGA won’t function until a budget is officially passed.
Jaime’s budget consisted of three key changes from FY 2013 in spending. Included were a $4,200 (11 percent) decrease in overall Officer Stipends, a $6,665 (148 percent) increase in Executive Student Assistant wages to cover more ESAs and Ramiro’s new Personal Executive Assistant position, and a $535 (four percent) increase in the Senate Discretionary Fund.
Although the overall Officer Stipends decreased, the President and Vice President both had proposed raises, while other administrative positions received relatively greater pay decreases. Compared to FY 2013, Jaime’s budget calls for a stipend change of a $75 ($925 to $1,000) increase to the President, a $50 increase to the Vice President ($750 to $800), a $300 decrease from the Secretary ($600 to $300), a $150 decrease from the treasurer ($450 to $300), and $50 increased to the chief of staff ($250 to $300).
Jaime claimed his increase to ESA wages was due to the lack of hours the SGA office was open to students.
“The reason for [the ESA wages increase] is that last year we only had one ESA,” Jaime said. “The issue with that was, if he had class, the office was closed. If the students needed to come by, they had no one to speak to.”
Jaime explained that with the new ESA budget, SGA plans on having the office open and accessible to students from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The increase also included an administrative assistant to the president.
According to Jobs for Kats, the new position titled Personal Assistant to the Student Body President will “serve at the pleasure of the student body president, schedule appointments, attend some meetings, answer and return phone calls/emails, [and] take notes.”
Senator and Caucus Chair for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Steven Perry presented a counter-budget to Jaime’s budget moments after Jamie called for a vote.
The amendment calls for major changes from Jaime’s original proposal including $3,000 less in overall Officer Stipend, $4,165 less in ESA wages, $2,500 more to Bearkat All Paws In, and $500 less for the Student Advisory Board. Other changes include a $250 increase for University Affairs and a $415 increase for Incidental Expenses and Office Supplies.
Jaime’s budget is a 17.1 percent increase in SGA’s internal spending while Perry’s budget is a 10.5 percent decrease in internal spending. Records obtained by the Houstonian show SGA internal expenditures increased 278 percent from 2005-2011, or more than $13,000 in 2005-2006 to more than $49,600 in 2011-2012.
Even though SGA’s total budget increased by 56.5 percent ($46,000 to $72,000) in the six-year span, student-oriented spending decreased by 38 percent and senate discretionary funds went down by 19 percent.
Among the major changes in Perry’s budget was $5,000 to be set aside for a scholarship fund that the Student Service Fee Committee had previously denied. Perry claimed that the board only denied SGA initially due to the lack of logistics for the scholarship.
“What we were told is that they weren’t going to give us an extra $5,000 because they haven’t seen the way it worked before,” Perry said. “They wanted to see a pilot program. So that’s what I want to do.”
Jaime rebuked what Perry said about the committee’s decision.
“First of all, the SGA scholarship fund û we cannot do it,” Jaime said. “The school has said no. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. So that’s $5,000 there you can count out of the budgetà It’s not that we’re mean and we don’t want to give it away; the university said no.”
Vice President Kolby Flowers served on the committee last year and confirmed that they said the program lacked structure, but was a possible initiative for SGA to pursue.
“To say the school won’t allow the fund is incorrect,” Flowers said. “The faculty members on the (committee) have expressed concern over how SGA has handled its money in the past and wants to see, not just hear, a structured proposal.”
Perry said that he feels SGA’s role is to serve the students and spend their money wisely.
“Scholarships are a great way to both ensure SGA’s fiscal responsibility, and directly benefit our fellow Bearkats,” Perry said. “Student government has an obligation to ensure that each dime we spend is used as effectively as possible, and will benefit the student body as much as possible.”
Several students also spoke out during the meeting, many in support of Jaime’s budget. Most students said that if the president submitted a budget, that there must be a reason for it and that the Senate should support that.
Senator Spencer Copeland requested a temporary budget be passed so that ESA wages wouldn’t be furloughed. That motion was never voted on.
Perry and Jaime’s respective budgets were referred to a committee for further review. The committee will be presided over by Treasurer Robert Arriaga and consist of five senators appointed by Jaime and approved by the Senate.
Jaime criticized the formation of the committee, citing that “it is (his) budget” and he gets to decide what the Senate votes on. Multiple sources present in the SGA office after the meeting said that Jaime didn’t want to appoint a committee at all.
The Houstonian attempted to reach Jaime several times after said concerns were voiced. He did not respond by press time.
The next regular SGA meeting will convene on Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m.
BEARKAT ALL-PAWS-IN ANOTHER POINT OF CONTENTION
Another controversial topic of the night was Perry’s proposed $2,500 increase to the Bearkat All-Paws-In project, SHSU’s largest community service organization. According to the senator, BAPI went roughly $2,500 over budget last year, and this increase is to brace for the possibility of that happening again.
Jaime was quick to remind the senate that SGA is still trying to get rid of surplus t-shirts and supplies from last year’s project. He also said that BAPI isn’t about the giveaways, but the service.
“We spent a lot of giveaways,” Jaime said. “This is a community service outreach program. If you don’t want to do community service, then stay home. If you’re coming for a t-shirt, some pizza, a bracelet û please don’t show up because the humans of the world deserve better than that. All those extra giveaways û for what? We can’t even give them away, so there’s no need to expand the budget.”
Perry stood by his budget proposal after the meeting, saying that keeping the budget the same was essentially shrinking it and that the promotional materials were the only marketing the organization had for the event.
“It’s really hard to plan an event that you want to get better with a budget that gets smaller,” Perry said. “I do think that whoever’s going to be in charge of BAPI is going to have to be fiscally responsibleà as student government always should be, but I think that we need to make sure we have those tools in place.”
Perry said that the budget increase isn’t necessarily for the giveaways, but for essential tools for community service.
“In the past, what has ended up happening was a shortage of waters, we’ve had people picking up trash without gloves, just because we have a shortage of supplies we actually need,” Perry said.
OTHER ACTION TAKEN
Other than the SGA budget drama Tuesday night, a resolution was passed that give SGA support for increased services for campus visitors with disabilities.
The bill, authored by Senator Perry and Senator Ferguson , passed unanimously and hopes to convince the university to make itself more accessible to those with disabilities.
The bill states that SGA supports “accommodations to provide for additional mobility enhancing resources, including golf carts, for campus visitors with disabilities.”
10 people also declared their intent to join SGA as a senator and Senator Troy Ross was appointed to the College of Criminal Justice.
President Jaime attempted to appoint Ryan Miller to the Supreme Court, but the action was tabled due to internal confusion about whether or not there were actually vacancies on the court or not.