MCSG funds run unexpectedly low

By Amy Lieberman

Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) chair Siddharth Akali ’07 said on Wednesday that approximately $1,100 remains in the Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) operating fund, leaving student organizations unable to acquire additional funds outside of their already allotted budgets for the rest of the semester.
This unexpected figure and the situation it creates, both of which stem from a lack of communication within MCSG, were first revealed six weeks into the semester, with $14,000 already granted to student organizations.The scene on Wednesday seemed to be one of confusion among executive officers, advisors and Legislative Body (LB) members. As of press time, executives remained uncoordinated in their search for solutions.

Student Services Committee chair Sheena Paul ’07 said that student groups should seek funding sources outside of MCSG, such as academic and administrative departments. Student organizations will also be asked to return extra funds to MCSG to free up money for unexpected events, Akali said.

MCSG President Ben Johnson ’06 contradicted Akali and Paul’s assertion that organizations should turn to outside funding sources. He proposed dipping into MCSG’s capital fund, normally reserved for long-term expenses. The balance presently rests at approximately $60,000.

At the beginning of each semester, students pay an activity fee to MCSG, collected with tuition. MCSG budgets a majority of this money to student organizations prior to the start of the semester. The remaining funds are distributed to an additional allocations account and the capital fund account.

——After the $14,000 from this account was distributed, MCSG was left with an estimated allocation budget of $8,000. A previously overlooked expense of an estimated $7,000 for campus publication insurance reduced the available funds to the present $1,100, a number that Akali first learned on Wednesday. Akali has now designated this sum as an emergency fund.

Word of the funding shortage reached Mac Weekly sources before MCSG advisors and some executives became aware.

In an interview on Wednesday afternoon, MCSG advisor and Associate Dean of Students Jim Hoppe said, “I didn’t know there was a problem. I haven’t seen anything at this point that would support this [figure of $1,100 remaining].”

MCSG President Ben Johnson ’06 and Vice President Jess Hasken ’07, appeared surprised in an interview Wednesday night, and said they were unaware of the exact operating budget figures until The Mac Weekly shared Akali’s numbers.

“I’m not positive that is the exact amount-$1,100,” Johnson said. “I don’t run financial business.”

Hasken, unsure whether the insurance had already been paid for, echoed: “We may have $8,000. I have no idea what the actual number is.”

Several interviews with various MCSG and administration sources revealed that no one was completely aware of the budget details.

Akali did not specify why he could not obtain exact budget figures until this week. He and Director of Campus Programs and FAC advisor Brian Wagner cited many factors that are taken into account before producing a final number.

Last year, when Johnson served as the FAC Chair and faced similar challenges, he was able to provide exact figures by the first LB meeting of the year.

Humanities representative Zach Teicher ’07 said that he was dismayed by the lack of a coherent view of the budget situation.

“There seems to be no accountability on the part of the execs,” he said. “We’re allocating money and we don’t know how much we have. That’s stupid and unacceptable. The exec board has to do its homework.”

Akali and Paul defended the fund shortage as part of a planned MCSG shift in strategy designed to encourage organizations to budget well in advance of their programs.

“I don’t see why lower allocation funds is a bad thing. We want to stress the importance of the budgeting process,” Paul said. “Orgs can’t take allocation funds for granted.”

And after Hoppe spoke with Paul, his perception changed. He said that the transition from allocation-based funding to a pre-planned budget-based system was well underway before this point. “It is what people have been working toward,” he said. “It’s kind of a tradeoff.”

Johnson, though, did not agree that the current allocation condition is completely beneficial.

“Our goal is to avoid situations like this in the future,” he said.

In order to address the fund shortage, Paul said that MCSG will ask organizations in an e-mail this week to return previously allocated funds that they do not plan to spend on programming. Johnson and Hasken were unaware of this plan until the Mac Weekly interview Wednesday night. They said this decision is by no means final, and would involve the entire executive board.

According to Hasken, the executive board is scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the matter.

Though they have yet to be officially informed of the new figures, Legislative Body (LB) members have conveyed frustration over MCSG’s response, or lack thereof.

“I’m personally somewhat annoyed MCSG has been making financial decisions when the full scope of the problem hasn’t been revealed to us,” LB representative Jonathan Davis ’08 said.

Davis added that he does not think that allocations for orgs should be compromised. “We still have plenty of money in the capital fund,” he said. “I’m not going to stand for cutting them [off from funds].”

Johnson acknowledged that a communication issue is partially at fault for this situation, but declined to comment on what, specifically, is to blame. “There is a dance between 77 Mac [Business Services] and the FAC,” he said. “There isn’t anyone who is absolutely in charge of everything.”

Johnson continued, portraying the present governmental system as opaque, a sentiment with which Akali agreed. Yet both declined to address why the budget issue would reveal itself at this time, though the system remains virtually unchanged.

Hasken did not attribute the funding shortage specifically to current MCSG executives’ errors, but did recognize a communication lapse. “The continuity of the LB is something we are struggling with,” she said. “This is something we are working on fixing. Every year execs walk around like chickens with their heads cut off.