MCSG budget brings big cuts

By Matthew Stone

The Financial Affairs Commission (FAC) of Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) plans to cut approximately $112,000 from student organizations’ budget requests for programming next semester, according to the proposed student organization operating budget released by the FAC last week. The budget is to receive final clearance from the Legislative Body (LB) at its meeting Tuesday.FAC members and others involved with the budget process expect the approved operating budget to amount to approximately $77,000, or $48.50 in activity fees from each full time student. Student organizations had originally requested a total of $189,000

for spring semester programming, up from $132,000 in requests for programming this semester.

The $77,000 budget is nearly $25,000 smaller than the size of last spring’s operating budget because an MCSG policy change last semester designated a larger portion of the $168 student activity fee included with tuition to be given to the Program Board at the expense of the operating budget.

The operating budget will go before the LB as an omnibus bill. The budget traditionally passes through the body unamended, receiving few “no” votes from LB members.

Nisha Krishnan ’07, a member of the FAC, attributed the spike in requests to a tendency by student organizations to request more for spring semester programming because of groups’ participation in conferences and other seasonal events. Student groups originally requested nearly $196,000 from the operating budget for spring 2005 programming, according to FAC records. According to FAC chair Siddharth Akali ’07, larger requests logically translate into larger cuts.

“You have 80 organizations on campus. If each of the 80 organizations asked for $10,000 each, that would be $800,000,” he said. “Everything’s going to be cut across the board.”

Students who played a role in budgeting for their organizations said that the FAC’s guidelines caused them to budget for more than they needed. The FAC advised student groups to establish all of next semester’s plans now in order to limit reliance on additional allocations, which are awarded by request throughout the semester.

“If it’s a case of whether we’re not definitely going to put on an event, we’re going to budget for it,” said Rhett du Pont ’08, who was involved in budgeting for three groups. “If we do decide we want to put on the event, we can’t count on additional allocations.”

“What we have to do is overestimate the costs that we have and hope it will actually come under that budget,” said Lulu Chen ’07, the treasurer for the Asian Student Alliance (ASA), which requested $9,080 for next semester. The FAC approved a budget of $2,335 for the group. The ASA was one of over 30 groups whose requested budgets the FAC cut by at least half.

Asked whether it was likely that student groups increased their budgets due to concerns that little money would be available later on, Krishnan was unsure if this trend was widespread. “To be honest, I don’t know at all and I don’t know what their [organization budgeters’] perception was,” she said.

Due to the limited funding approved, the ASA will be unable to attend the conference of the Midwest Asian-American Student Union that it attends every year. The expense would have been $5,510 for airfare and accommodations. And because of cuts in other areas, Chen said that her organization will likely request additional allocations during the semester.

Frederik Flagstad ’08, who developed the budget request for Model United Nations (MUN), requested nearly $10,000 to send 32 members to two conferences. After the group’s audit, the FAC proposed that the group receive $2,543 to send 12 members to one conference. “We understand they don’t have enough funding to send us to both conferences,” Flagstad said. However, according to Flagstad, the amount the FAC has proposed for his group is approximately $250 too little for what is needed to send 12 people to one conference. He said this is due to a calculation error by the FAC.

Asked about this amount, Akali said that the FAC had already made clear it would not cover that expense. As of press time, Flagstad had a meeting scheduled with Akali to discuss the alleged miscalculation.

Despite Flagstad’s complaints with the budgeting process, Akali praised the proposed budget and the FAC for completing work on it in one week. He noted that, for the first time ever, the budget was available on MCSG’s web site.

“This is one of the most comprehensive and most transparent budgets ever made at Macalester,” Akali said. “It was a lot of work that went into making that budget. Everything was very calculated.”

According to Natural Sciences LB Rep. Matt Pierce ’07, MCSG is expecting more money to be available for additional allocations next semester because many student organizations have not spent their full allotted budgets for programming this semester. The unspent funds transfer to next semester’s budget.

As a result of not being granted their requested budgets, more student organizations are likely to request additional allocations throughout next semester, according to Pierce. The possibility for granting a greater number of additional allocations runs contrary to MCSG efforts that began last spring in hopes of reducing the number of additional allocations awarded to student organizations. This move was to encourage groups to focus more on advance planning.

“If they’re [MCSG] trying to crack down on additional allocations,” du Pont said, “they’re making groups more dependent on additional allocations [by cutting budget requests].”

Chen said that asking student groups to budget for programming well in advance leads to especially inaccurate figures, especially for costs and plans that can change constantly. “It’s kind of like, why don’t we wait until second semester when we know what we’re doing?” she asked.

Social Sciences LB Rep. Caleb Jonas ’07 said that these concerns are valid and that is the reason for additional allocations, but he also agreed with the FAC’s approach to emphasizing budgeting accurately well in advance of programs. “I think the more planning and the more thinking ahead that orgs are asked to do,” Jonas said, “the better their planning will go.