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MSA budget stirs controversy within organization

Vega says Senate’s decreasing budget hurts senator retention.

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April 9, 2014

As the Missouri Students Association 2015 budget nears voting Wednesday, the budgetary process has come under fire from its own organization.

Academic Affairs chairman Ben Vega proposed two bills about the internal workings of Senate and the drafting of the budget being in accordance with the MSA Bylaws.

According to Chapter 1.2 of the bylaws, it is the duty of the vice president “to create and maintain a budget for the Association,” and according to Chapter 2.85, it is the duty of the Budget Committee to “review the budget upon submission to the Senate” and to “audit the association budget on an as needed basis.”

This year, the Budget Committee viewed the budget for the first time March 4. However, members of Senate did not receive their own copies of the budget until the following week, on March 11.

Vega’s two bills, 53-37 and 53-38, were initially introduced to full Senate on April 3. The goal of Bill 53-37, Vega said, is to bring the practice of drafting the budget back into accordance with the bylaws and to increase communication between Senate and MSA executives regarding the budget.

The legislation more explicitly defines the communication between the vice president and the Budget Committee chair so the Budget Committee has a better understanding of why and how the budget will be drafted.

Failure to work in conjunction with the Budget Committee would be grounds for removing the vice president from office, according to Bill 53-37.

Haberberger said during Budget Committee last week she felt the grounds for removal was an unnecessary threat that placed extra pressure on the vice president.

Bill 53-38 is about the internal workings of Senate, stating that committee chairs would be more involved in the drafting of the Senate budget to be submitted to the vice president.

Director of Student Activities Chelsea Fricker voiced her concerns April 2. She said the legislation is an infraction of separation of powers between Senate and the executive cabinet.

MSA Vice President Kelsey Haberberger said in an email that she agreed with Fricker and thought the wording of the legislation was still unclear.

Both Senate and the executive cabinet believe communication during the budget drafting process could be better.

Vega said he wrote the legislation based off conversations with Senate Speaker Ben Bolin and Budget chairwoman Shelby Catalano and the past experiences with drafting the budget.

“Senate was not consulted to get an opinion on the budget,” Bolin said.

Catalano said she requested to be present at conversations held about the budget draft via email and she never received a follow-up email.

“We believe that … the way the budget is being created is not in accordance with the bylaws or is very loosely in accordance with the bylaws,” Vega said. “We look to bring the budget process more into accordance with what the bylaws explicitly state.”

Part of the issue some senators have with the draft of the budget is with the Senate budget decreasing over the past three years.

The 2013 Senate budget was set at $8,000. Last year, it was cut to $4,000 to reflect the spending habits of former Senate Speaker Jacob Sloan. The proposed Senate budget for 2015 has been cut to $2,000, which Vega, Catalano and Bolin all take issue with.

Some senators have wanted money for programming, such as the Social Justice Committee’s Hate Wall event.

“Our job is to write legislation, … but we should also have a budget to appropriately meet with our students, as well as advocate for the student body,” Bolin said. “We can’t do that as well with the $2,000 that we are appropriated currently.”

Haberberger said while she likes Senate’s desire to represent the student body, she feels an increase in funding for programming conflicts with the Department of Student Activities.

The budget-drafting process occurs during the elections for the next Senate speaker, Catalano said. Consequently, it is the former Senate speaker that sets the budget for the next one.

“Our last two Senate speakers have both previously been budget chairs,” Catalano said. “They (were) very fiscally conservative, and so that leads to a lot less spending."

During Senate on April 2, Vega read a text message from former Senate Speaker Mckenzie Morris to Vega, in which she expressed her concerns with drafting the Senate budget to reflect former Senate speakers’ spending habits.

Some members of Senate are concerned that the 2015 proposed Senate budget is affecting senator retention, which has dwindled this year, Vega said. There are currently only 42 senators.

At 7 p.m. Monday, a closed meeting was held between advisers Kathy Murray and Farouk Aregbe, MSA President Mason Schara, Bolin and Vega to discuss the legislation and the concerns from both parties regarding the budget draft.

“Basically, the goal of the meeting was to put us on the same page in regards to everybody’s feelings about legislation 53-37 and the budget process at large,” Vega said. “(The executive cabinet and the advisers’) perception was that it was a punitive legislation written in anger. (We) clarified that it was not, and we worked to come up with improvements on the budgeting process.”

Vega began drafting amendments to Bill 53-37.

“The intent of the legislation (will be) the same,” Vega said. “It’ll just be semantically different.”

Schara said the executive cabinet is content with the amendments made to Bill 53-37.

“We put in actual definitions and actual examples of what ‘in conjunction’ means and what the Budget Committee and Budget Committee chair should be doing during the budget.”

Both pieces of legislation will be voted upon at Wednesday’s Senate.

“Regardless if (the legislation) gets passed or not, there needs to be an avenue of communication between the vice president and budget committee,” Catalano said. “Currently there isn’t anything like that. … I don’t think that was the original intent of the process, but … how much time we have in a semester doesn’t necessarily allow for it anymore.”

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