Editorial: Fee Waivers Put Small Contingency Fund at Risk

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For a summary of ASUC and ASUC Auxiliary Finances, click here.

This year's ASUC Senate is carrying a fairly heavy burden: how to be responsible with its meager $21, 015.09 contingency fund.

By contrast, last year's senate enjoyed a much larger $120,367.84 contingency fund-money set aside to fund student groups and UC Berkeley campus events and projects that are proposed after the budgeting process.

At the end each school year, the ASUC Senate allocates funds to student groups in its budgeting process. The budget is then implemented the next school year. For example, the 2002-03 budget for student groups, ASUC executive offices and projects was determined by the 2001-02 ASUC Senate.

In determining this school year's budget, last year's ASUC Senate opted to allocate most of its funds to student groups and projects rather than reserve a large portion of the budget for the senate contingency fund.

The problem here is that much of the ASUC Senate's gravitas lies in its ability to allocate money from its contingency fund. Aside from some influence the ASUC has over campus policies, a $21,000 contingency fund leaves almost no room for meaningful projects.

Such a tight pool of funds demands great fiscal responsibility. Insofar as the ASUC Senate has not put too much of a dent in its contingency fund (as of Oct. 16, there was between $16,000 and $17,000 left), it has been responsible.

But the ASUC Senate has been fiscally irresponsible in grating fee waivers to student groups. So far this year, according to available ASUC documents, $8,647.73 in fee waivers have been granted to student groups and executive offices.

Fee waivers are granted to student groups usually for facility use in Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union. Currently, student groups must pay the ASUC Auxiliary up to $2,000 for facility use. Most of the fee waivers that have been granted to ASUC executive offices have been for food expenditures.

The ASUC Senate should not be in the business of granting fee waivers to students groups that have already been allocated a set budget. Likewise, executive offices should provide food for office events by diving into their own budgets, most of which are at or exceed $15,000.

Legally, the fee waivers are funded by the contingency fund. For the past few years, however, the ASUC Auxiliary, an organization independent of the ASUC that oversees commercial operations, has paid for fee waivers.

Apparently, this has given the ASUC Senate a license to disregard the needs of the ASUC Auxiliary in the name of student-group service. ASUC Auxiliary Director Tom Cordi cautioned the senate to hold back in granting fee waivers, especially facility-use fee waivers for student groups.

When student groups reserve venues such as Pauley Ballroom in the student union for their events, the ASUC Auxiliary must provide staff. As is expected, these staffers must be compensated.

Such compensation should be provided by facility-use fees charged to student groups. But fee waivers force the ASUC Auxiliary to pick up the tab.

This hasn't been a problem in recent years. But at the Oct. 16 ASUC Senate meeting, Cordi warned the senate that the ASUC Auxiliary may be facing a budget deficit by the end of the year, making it impossible for the auxiliary to honor these fee waivers.

The problem is twofold: First, the ASUC Auxiliary is required to allocate any residual profit to the ASUC. If the auxiliary runs a deficit, the ASUC will not collect any funds in auxiliary residual profits, potentially forcing next year's contingency fund to be as low as it is this year.

Second, the ASUC Senate may have to revert back to diving into its contingency fund-possibly next year's-to compensate for these fee waivers. If the senate continues its idealistic granting of fee waivers at its present pace, next year's contingency fund may render the financial power of the ASUC Senate as impotent as it is this year.

The ASUC Senate must avoid relying on the ASUC Auxiliary to fund fee waivers and provide a contingency fund for next year's senate that can absorb fee waiver costs.

Much of the ASUC Senate's ability to serve UC Berkeley students rests on the strength of its contingency fund. With a contingency fund now between $16,000 and $17,000 remaining for the entire school year, the ASUC Senate is handicapped in its financial flexibility.

This problem may persist if the ASUC Senate continues to grant fee waivers at its present pace. For the good of student groups who rely on the contingency fund, the ASUC senate must exercise fiscal responsibility to ensure a reasonable contingency fund for next year's ASUC.


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