The Student Union Assembly (SUA) proposed a fee increase referendum that will nearly triple the current student-paid fee and generate over $944,000 annually.
While most of SUA’s officers and many SUA members support the fee, others, including former SUA Presidents Ray Inoue and Julie Foster, oppose it. SUA voted to sponsor the referendum at its Tuesday meeting, and it’s set to appear on the spring ballot.
Passing the fee would increase the existing SUA student fee from $7 to $20 per quarter. Thirty-three percent of the fee increase would help students receiving financial aid to pay for the increase through return-to-aid.
The resulting SUA revenue would be $13 per student — about $614,000 funding for SUA every year after the return-to-aid deduction, doubling its current budget.
Currently, the referendum language incorrectly lists the total amount of money the fee will generate per year at about $614,000, but it will actually generate about $944,000 total. The fee also states incorrectly that about $202,000 of the fee would go to return-to- aid instead of the correct amount of about $330,000.
It will be up to Dean of Students Lucy Rojas and the Student Fee Advisory Committee (SFAC) to decide what the next steps in correcting the language will be, said Tamra Owens, SUA vice president of student life (VPSL).
SUA aims to use the increased revenue to keep up with increasing costs associated with its food pantry, campuswide events and concerts, increasing intern wage to follow minimum wage and increasing its advisor’s pay and benefits by the mandated 3 percent yearly increase. The fee may also fund paid positions for assembly representatives and increased stipends for SUA officers.
“All of that is going to catch up with us if we don’t do something,” Owens said.
Passing the Referendum
Tamra Owens, SUA VPSL, began authoring the fee referendum and its associated three- year budget projection in fall quarter. It received a “no opinion” statement from SFAC — a group that reviews and advises students on referendums — but no student organizations have officially endorsed it. Once on the ballot in the spring, the fee will require a majority undergraduate student vote to pass.
SUA Vice President of Internal Affairs and SFAC’s SUA Ex-Officio Rep. Grace Shefcik said SUA cannot spend any funds acquired from the proposed measure until SUA votes to approve the budget in spring and fall of every year.
“The assembly votes on how we allocate our money, and if they, or other students, disagree with the projection, those concerns will be taken into account and considered when finalizing the budget,” Shefcik said in an email.
Though the way SUA will spend the funds is not final, the language of the referendum outlining what the fee can be used for is set, said former SUA President Julie Foster. If it passes, SUA won’t be allowed to use funds generated from the fee for anything not listed in the referendum language.
Even though SUA can technically opt out of funding any aspect of the referendum, “it would be a huge misuse of power for them to start only funding the specific things [it] chooses to fund if the student body votes on all of this,” Foster said when referring to everything on the referendum.
Events and Food Pantry
SUA is currently able to fund extra programs and events like the recent Hari Kondabolu stand- up comedy show and a food pantry through a $100,000 carry forward due to its advisor’s leave of absence last year and other miscellaneous carry forward. Continued funding for these things will require a fee increase, said SUA VPSL Tamra Owens.
If passed, referendum funds will support sustaining the food pantry, which is projected to cost at least $20,000 annually. The pantry will be housed in OPERS for free for the next three years, though Owens said the goal is to relocate it to downtown once OPERS repurposes the space. Relocation would cost around $100,000. The fee increase revenue will allow SUA to set aside $33,000 per year for the next three years to accommodate this cost.
“I want to give students what they need,” Owens said. “It’s just hard when you don’t have the resources to do so.”
The increased fee will also allow SUA to put on more events and concerts for students, which current officers believe is a priority for SUA. These events are meant to increase campus pride and are somewhat modeled after events and concerts put on by other UC student governments, Owens said. SUA has put on more events this year than last because of the $100,000 carry forward. A Khalid concert is planned for spring quarter that will cost about $19,000.
“When asked last year what the Student Union should be focusing on, events was the number one thing that came up,” said SUA President Tias Webster.
However, SUA’s last concert in 2014, Edge of Eden, cost about $200,000 total — $80,000 for the talent alone — and charged students $55 per ticket.
SUA sold about 3,500 Edge of Eden tickets, but it needed to sell 5,000 tickets to break even. The concert put SUA in a $37,000 deficit, which it only recently recovered from.
“I still believe [Edge of Eden] was a huge mistake,” said former SUA President Julie Foster.
Passing the fee increase would also allow more funding to pay SUA’s interns and advisors, and possibly officers and representatives, pending budget review.
SUA is mandated to increase its advisor’s salary of $77,000 by 3 percent every year. The SUA interns are paid hourly minimum wage, though to keep up with rising minimum wage, SUA has cut intern hours. If the referendum passes, it hopes to restore those hours.
The referendum may also allow for stipends for all SUA representatives from colleges and ethnic and identity organizations — a total of 40 positions that would cost about $37,500. SUA representatives are not currently paid.
SUA cannot increase officer pay or give stipends to representatives unless it approves that as part of next year’s budget. Many SUA members are opposed to increased pay for officers — who currently make $10,800 annually — and stipends for SUA representatives. So this aspect of the projected budget may not pass.
“I’m personally uncomfortable with how much I get paid. I think it’s way too much,” said SUA vice president of diversity and inclusion Hector Navarro at the March 7 SUA meeting. “I’ve been doing my work since my sophomore year and I [had] been doing it for free. I think the idea of having more people getting involved simply because of the money is just not where we should be heading.”
SUA President Tias Webster said some officers work less than others. He believes his workload surpasses his pay, though he said this doesn’t mean he wants his pay to increase.
Before 2015, SUA officer pay was $12,000 per year and was reduced following Edge of Eden’s deficit. SUA VPSL Tamra Owens said she allocated a portion of the fee to increase officer pay from $10,800 back to $12,000 when authoring budget projection and referendum.
“My goal with this fee is to replenish all the money that had to be cut back over the years — including officer pay,” Owens said.
SUA President Tias Webster maintains SUA’s role is to serve students in whatever capacity students desire, including putting on concerts and events. Former SUA Presidents Ray Inoue, in office fall 2016, and Julie Foster, in office 2015- 16, believe SUA should first be an organizing and advocating resource for students.
“It is a matter of student government ideology,” Foster said in an email, “whether SUA is there to organize and bargain for student rights or if it is there to host concerts and fun events.”
Part of SUA’s increased funding, if the referendum passes, will go toward concerts and events because students think SUA should put on more events, Webster said. “My philosophy at the end of the day is that we will always work for students, and if they tell us to do something, we should,” he said.
SUA’s constitution states, “The SUA shall promote activism, civic participation, discussion, debate and awareness of public issues from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints.” SUA can also host campuswide events in order to “train students in direct action organizing, empowerment, and representation.”
In Foster’s opinion, SUA spending money on concerts is constitutionally warranted, “as long as they’re doing the things they’re actually supposed to be doing [too], which is protecting the student body and bargaining on behalf of students for stuff like the housing crisis, tuition.”
Webster argues, “There is a school of thought that says the SUA should be solely activism- based. I personally, again, am on the side of, we’re whatever the students want us to be.”
Between SUA members, past and present, there is disconnect between what SUA should be doing for students.
“I believe it’s part of our responsibility to work on things like retention and protect students of color, students of marginalized communities and make sure they have the right resources that they need in order to make sure that they can make it at school,” said former SUA President Ray Inoue. “That’s a fundamental responsibility that the student government should have, and I was just told that’s not a priority.”