ISS treasurer: Senate budget not in line with mission of ISS

By Megan Jones

The Illinois Student Senate currently faces a financial identity crisis, said Treasurer Kevin Seymour, as senators continue to submit resolutions toward hosting events and funding registered student organizations.

The senate’s quarterly financial report began with opening remarks from Seymour questioning: “Why are there only a few allocation resolutions which are in line with our goals while a majority are not?” 

“They start writing resolutions for easier things, which is not necessarily what we should be spending our money on,” Seymour said. 

While other student governments within the Big Ten are centralized under one umbrella, the University is decentralized into the Illinois Student Senate, the Student Organization Resource Fee board and other programming boards. 

“You have to let people know what we’re supposed to be spending our money on, which is a challenge to convey or to get senators to agree,” Seymour said. “You tell them you’re not a programming board and yet we still have resolutions that come up that ask for money for student organizations or they want to promote an event that we’re not supposed to be doing.” 

During financial years 2009 through 2013, the senate has spent an average of $33,834  each year. However, the senate has allocated $38,886.36  during the Fall 2013 semester. A surplus of $28,408.78  from previous years has given the senate a much larger budget to work with. 

He added that senators know ISS is not a programming board, but senators are still not submitting resolutions that align with the senate’s goals. He attributes this to lack of motivation, support or administrative backing. 

“We do have a set process, and it puts the burden off student government from having to focus on distributing money to Registered Student Organizations, but this also has its disadvantages as it’s something we don’t get to do,” said Jenny Baldwin, vice president-internal.

Illinois Student Senate has one of the smallest budgets in comparison to other schools in the Big Ten, Baldwin said. She added that all other schools’ student governments except Northwestern and Rutgers also receive stipends for executive members, while the Illinois Student Senate does not.

“Having a smaller budget really does put us behind with larger projects because we’re not able to do things like that,” Baldwin said. “Just on a larger scale, it puts the University of Illinois programming below other Big Ten schools.” 

Seymour solicited project ideas for the surplus from the senate’s listserv and received 10 to 15 feasible ideas, he said. Within the next two months, project resolutions will be presented. Project ideas include adding more lighting on the Quad and working with the Stress Management Relief RSO at McKinley to help students during midterms and finals.

“With the spring semester, we have more wiggle room — when in the fall semester we had to think about planning for the rest of the year,” Baldwin said. 

Each year, the senate receives $39,000 from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, said Rhonda Kirts, Illinois Student Senate adviser and associate dean of students. 

In 2007, the budget was increased by $7,000. The stipend agreement can only be opened if both the vice chancellor and the senate agree it needs revision; however, many senators do not want to open the agreement because of the possibility of losing privileges previously granted, such as having a workspace in the Union and sending two mass emails per year.

Seymour previously submitted a resolution for an Appropriately Sized Annual Budget, which never left the financial committee. After calculating what the senate has spent money on in the past, he believes that the senate should have a lower total budget of $24,000 to $26,000. 

“I feel like all the rest of the money we spend is pretty much wasted, but that’s my opinion,” Seymour said. 

This year, a failed resolution to allocate $18,000 for robes for the Black Chorus was one of the most debated items. This allocation would have allotted 27.3 percent of the senate’s starting budget to one RSO. Seymour said senators also heavily debated public relation fund allocations toward supplies to be given away during Quad Day as well as later in the year, totaling $4,149.67. 

“I wouldn’t call spending $4,500 this semester alone on ISS merchandise and business cards as fiscally responsible,” said Mark Rosenstein, former senator and current member of The Caucus. “The people who want to get involved and want to give back are going to find the student government anyway. They don’t need plastic cups and drawstring bags.” 

Last year when Student Body President Damani Bolden was sworn in, he said that one of his goals for this year is to be “more fiscally responsible with our dollars, more efficient with them and more ethical with them.”

Rosenstein believes that Bolden has yet to meet this goal, as Bolden himself sponsored the Black Chorus robe resolution. However, Bolden said he thinks the senate is a leader in transparency on campus.

“For the first time since I’ve been here, the senate has talked about establishing funding and financial principles of ISS and I think that is the first step to spending money responsibly,” Bolden said. “We are the leaders of being as transparent as possible. Everything that we do, every dime we spend, every action we take is done publicly on record and we make it readily available unlike some departments where you have to search or (submit a Freedom of Information Act request for) that information.” 

Megan can be reached at [email protected]