Appeals and cuts complicate, postpone MCSG budget vote

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MCSG’s Legislative Board voted Tuesday on student org appeals during this year’s budgeting process. Photo by Meg Britton-Mehlisch ’18.

This week, the proposed 2015-2016 Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) budget moved closer to approval, but ran into more difficulties at its meeting Tuesday night. In the last week, the budget has seen many changes. and has still not been passed.

The budgeting process began in March when student organizations were instructed to submit their budgets through the student org management site OrgSync. Checkbook is the financial tracking feature of the site, and MCSG uses this site to track orgs’ use of their budgets each year and generate appropriate budgets for the future years. It was at this point that many student orgs began to have problems with the budgeting process. Although MCSG requires all orgs to use Checkbook to receive funding, several org leaders were either unfamiliar with or unable to use the site in time for this year’s budget deadline.

In prior years, this may have resulted in a delayed budget, but this year the Financial Affairs Committee (FAC), the MCSG sub-committee in charge of presenting a budget, decided to implement a 50 percent cut of any budget that wasn’t on Checkbook by the deadline. Student Organizations Committee Chair James Lindgren ’15 explained why he recommended and supported the budget cuts.

“By cutting those groups in half,” Lindgren said, “what it does it say? [It says that] we would have approved you for this much money, but because we didn’t know where your money was, we’re only going to give you half — with the understanding that we would have given you the money before. Therefore next year, when you’ve used all the money and tracked it well on Checkbook, we’ll give you more.”

FAC Chair Jennie Kim ’15 explained the reasoning behind the 50 percent budget cuts.

“We just felt that was the only way we could communicate that message,” Kim said. “We can tell orgs again and again and again that they need to use checkbook, but I think unless there is some kind of deficit felt on their part, the message would never come across.”

Lindgren said that Checkbook cuts were in part an attempt to give the student body more of the programming they are paying for their student activity fee.

MCSG’s Legislative Board voted Tuesday on student org appeals during this year’s budgeting process. Photo by Meg Britton-Mehlisch ’18.
MCSG’s Legislative Board voted Tuesday on student org appeals during this year’s budgeting process. Photo by Meg Britton-Mehlisch ’18.

“It’s not always a problem, but for example this year, before last week, we had run out of additional allocation money, which is good because it means it’s being spent,” Lindgren said. “But we didn’t really run out of money because thousands are still holed up in orgs. And if they don’t spend it then that money is not used. We take issue with that because it’s money that students are paying now for this year and they’re not getting programing for it. They’ll get it next year. Which is fair, but also not fair.”

Out of the 120 student organizations, about 70 orgs submitted budget requests to MCSG. Of the budgeting orgs, about 30 received a 50 percent cut to the amounts the FAC would have originally approved, and one group, MCSG (budgeting for its own operations), received more funds than they requested.

While those cuts may have been daunting for the orgs affected, their impact was lessened at last Tuesday’s MCSG meeting. Soon after the budget was introduced, a motion was brought forward to reduce the 50 percent cut to a 30 percent cut of the budget amounts the FAC originally approved. The amendment required a majority, but barely passed with a vote of 11 to 10.

With the issue of the amendment settled, the appeals process opened. Nine orgs presented an appeal of their budget: WMCN, MacSlams, Mac Public Interest Research Group (MacPIRG), Macalester American Civil Liberties Union, The Mac Weekly, Macalester Public Health, Macalester Outing Club, Fresh Concepts and Sitting @ Mac.
(Disclosure: The Mac Weekly was affected by the proposed budget cuts, and appealed their budget to MCSG. The writers of this article were not involved in the appeal process.)

Each org was introduced to the LB with the amount they were requesting, the amount the FAC had approved, and whether or not they had been affected by the 30 percent cut. Following their introduction, the orgs were given two minutes to make their case for additional budgeting and then discussion began on their request.

For some orgs this process was a simple clarification of a budget request.

MacSlams’ appeal centered on budgeting to pay for their coach. MacSlams co-chair Natalie Kaplan ’17 explained how the nature of their appeal made their interaction with the appeal process much easier.

“I think we were really fortunate in the fact that our money was cut because of a misunderstanding of how our coach works and not because of conflict over whether we should have our actual thing that we’re asking for,” Kaplan said. “So once we were like, ‘this is what’s actually going on,’ someone from the FAC was like ‘I think we would have made a different decision if we had known this’ and then it was no big deal.”

Outing Club lost a portion of their budgeting to a misunderstanding of the state of their gear and whether the trips the had budgeted for could be covered by the Travel Grant. Prior to their appeal, co-chair Nicola Morrow ’17 said that she felt it was necessary to appeal the funding for the gear not just because of the age of their existing gear, but because it could be used by the greater Mac community.

“Something that’s really unique about the Outing Club is that the capital, [MCSG-funded resources], that we have is not just used for Outing Club events, but for Macward Bound, a lot of department trips – like the geology department will check out tents and stoves to go on a camping trip or Relay for Life used our camping tents — so it’s really college capital,” Morrow said. “I felt like MCSG has treated it as our own personal little pot of resources.”

Morrow also said that after meeting with Joan Maze, the Director of Campus Activities and Operations who will be in charge of the Travel Grant next year, she was sure that the decision not to budget for the Outing Club’s trips was a misunderstanding.

Other appeals centered on how detrimental the impact of a 50 percent, or even 30 percent, cut would be on their organization’s simple operation.

At the heart of WMCN’s appeal was the concern that the station wouldn’t be able to survive the 30 percent cut to its budget and solely rely on additional allocations as members of MCSG had recommended. WMCN won their appeal and had their proposed cuts restored.

By the end of a two hour-long appeals process, MCSG approved all but two of the nine appeals; Fresh Concepts and MacPIRG.

Fresh Concepts member Ella Schoenen ’18 acknowledged that the org usually underspends and they weren’t too worried about the cut MCSG imposed. “I think the case by case basis [for additional funds] they proposed we do next year might actually work,” said Schoenen.

Jacob Frank ’16, General Manager of WMCN, expressed gratitude towards MCSG after the station was given a budget of $15,151.

“WMCN was able to demonstrate that it has significant financial needs that needed to be addressed at the beginning of the semester based on fees that are recurring and that we can’t do anything about.” Frank said “[These include] our insurance fee, our licensing fee and our studio engineer’s salary, in addition to compensating for budgeting snafus from last year when we didn’t actually budget enough for our studio engineer, meaning that we are already kind of behind on those payments. Cutting those funds further would put us even further behind which isn’t fair to our studio engineer, so I was pleased that they were overall receptive and weren’t going to leave us hanging.”

Kaplan also said she was thankful for the outcome of the meeting. “I felt like we were very supported by MCSG, and I really appreciated that I felt like people were actually trying to give us a chance to explain ourselves and not just using it as an opportunity to cut us down,” she said.

The final, successful appeal was met with applause from the LB members who had not left the meeting, which had been extended twice to guarantee enough time for all appeals to be heard. Nearing the end of the meeting, the LB motioned to pass the proposed 2015-2016 budget.

The motion was introduced with a reciting of the total budget amount as $153,489.48 by Kim. A vote was called on the motion, only to be interrupted by Kim as all but one member of the LB, herself included, voted in favor of the motion. When she was unable to stop the proceedings mid-vote, the motion passed. Following this, Kim explained that the budget amount that had been approved was incorrect, as she had forgotten to include flexi-fund budgeting, the standard funding allocated to each chartered organization, into the total budget.

As Kim recalculated the budget with flexi-funds included, Junior Class Representative Jolena Zabel ’16 mentioned that by her calculations, the general operating fund would start with $4,975 for additional allocations at the beginning of next year, before any rollover from unused funds from this year were also added. She also mentioned that when the general operating fund had reached a similar amount last week the LB had reacted with concern.

This calculation was checked by some other MCSG members and found to be excluding more than $20,000 that MCSG now has access to after ending their funding of MacPIRG earlier this year. The possibility of a small general operating fund was enough to convince the LB that the budget needed to be tabled for another week.

Junior Representative and Parliamentarian Ian Calway ’16 was particularly frustrated by the budget inaccuracies.

“I try to keep my cool,” Calaway said at the meeting, “but I am very frustrated right now. This is really disappointing. I think tabling, tabling this budget is the only option right now. When I made the amendment to change the cut from 50 to 30 percent, I was working with numbers that I believed were correct and they are not. This is very not good. We’re going to have to take a motion to table.”

The motion to table the budget passed by a vote of 17 for and 2 opposed. In light of the concern about the budget calculations, the FAC reconvened this week and recalculated the budget amounts.

Looking back on this year’s budgeting process, Kim admitted she would have liked more instruction on how the budgeting and appeals processes work. “There isn’t a super streamlined process. There’s no official ‘this is how you do appeals’ in writing, especially, since this is only the second full year we [have done] block budgeting,” Kim said.

Kim also explained that the bylaws were also interpreted a little incorrectly, which led to a complicated budgeting and appeal process.

“I really encouraged Dan Yee ’16, the FAC Chair elect, to streamline the process for next year, just so this doesn’t happen again,” said Kim.

Yee is eager to re-evaluate the financial code and bylaws.

“I will be going over [the bylaws] to try to put the appeals process into stone,” he said. Yee plans to make the budgeting penalty for orgs not using Checkbook part of the bylaws as well.

Rachel Wilson contributed research to this article. Editors’ note: Our calculations on the numbers of organizations that submitted budgets and appealed any cuts to MCSG are based off of data that were made available on the Google Doc “2015-2016 Budget,” which is available to the entire Macalester community and was created by the FAC. These data were calculated on April 6 and 7, 2015, after the initial 50 percent cut was applied to all affected organizations. The data on that document were changed following MCSG’s Tuesday night meeting, and that document now partially reflects the changes made after that time.