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Editorial: USAC’s questionable spending of excess money puts students on back burner

By Editorial Board

January 30, 2019 10:14 pm

You would hope managing a multimillion-dollar budget would teach you a thing or two about fiscal responsibility.

It’s only made the Undergraduate Students Association Council spendthrift, though.

The council broke political and economic tradition Jan. 22 by refusing to tally the amount it wanted to spend in surplus funding, some of which went to student groups. Note that this action comes before leaders of any of these groups could make their case about the amount of funding they would need. The council unilaterally – and arbitrarily – assigned a dollar sign to the student groups they are supposed to represent, before actually seeking their input.

Students each pay more than $200 in fees to their student government. This impressive collection of fees is used to fund lobbying trips, put on concerts, pay officers and their staff, and enable hundreds of student groups to operate.

Managing that complex funding matrix requires a careful hand that prudently spends by prioritizing certain directives and programs. It shouldn’t entail avoiding the advice of financial bookkeepers, arbitrarily allocating fees and leaving essential programs to wither away.

But USAC has been doing just that.

Take last week’s allocation. The council put aside $104,885– nearly $5,000 more than its earlier-agreed $100,000 – to fund its 14 offices, many of which operate on meager budgets. The six-digit number came from the council being hit with a sizable surplus windfall.

Yet the seemingly worthwhile allocation had eyebrow-raising line-items that included a suggestion to purchase massage chairs to help students’ mental health – as if Bruins in need of mental health care would trudge to Kerckhoff Hall to sit on a pair of massage chairs.

Luckily, the ludicrous allocation did not pass. But the notion that student government leaders would expend student fees on all kinds of expenses without consideration from the student body has been haunting this campus since last year. After all, last year’s council table set the precedent for arbitrarily putting aside $100,000 in surplus funding for student groups without first identifying which groups needed funding, how to advertise the opportunity and why such grandiose surpluses – an indication of excess student fees – were happening.

This fixation on writing off excess money in a knee-jerk fashion has resulted in a missed opportunity to expand programs that already do a lot of good on campus, such as the Financial Supports Commission’s textbook scholarship program. The program, which began in 2008 and offered 50 scholarships of $200 each per quarter, has since dwindled to a program that offers 40 scholarships of $50 – and not even every quarter.

Textbook fees can be upwards of $150 each, and yet massage chairs somehow supplanted them in USAC’s agenda last week.

This is just one of many examples of how the council can ensure student fee allocations actually make their way back to the students who pay for them, rather than serve as a last-ditch effort to discard money that would otherwise go into its endowment.

Yes, USAC offices need money and excess money should be given back to students and student groups. What Bruins expect, though, is that money be doled out responsibly and in a productive way.

Not in a whimsical, late-night sign-off. And certainly not for services no one asked for.

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