Pinching pennies

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Last Friday ASUW presented a $1 million budget to the Services & Activities Fee (SAF) committee. More than three-quarters of the association’s funding comes from the SAF, a quarterly $118 student fee.

The ASUW’s request has doubled since 2005, and this year the ASUW is requesting an additional $30,000 on top of last year’s funding. The increase in this year’s request reflects the establishment of two new offices, increased Board of Directors hours, and inflation. The ASUW is only one of more than a dozen organizations requesting funds from SAF this year, many of which are asking for an increase.

“We cut a lot of fat out of the association,” ASUW Finance and Budget Director Joseph Salama said.

Last year, ASUW, which appoints the majority of SAF committee members, was awarded 6 percent of the entire SAF budget, only surpassed by Hall Health and the Recreational Sports Programs.

Controlling the funding

The SAF committee will evaluate the ASUW budget over the next week. During this time it will also evaluate more than a dozen other budgets. Overall, the committee is facing a $1.6 million increase in requests.

SAF committee co-chair Andrew Van Winkle said this increase is unprecedented compared to previous years. Alongside increasing fixed-rates, the committee is seeing an increase in requests for funding. Three new groups requested funding this year, and two more in previous years.

“More people are seeing us as a source of funding,” Van Winkle said. “I’d like to attribute it to our transparency efforts that we’re working on, but I think that’s probably a lie.”

The large increase means that even a good budget may not get approved. Van Winkle said cuts have to be made in order to avoid raising the fee. SAF committee members will evaluate each entity and determine what requests to cut, including ASUW’s.

In previous years, the fact that ASUW appoints SAF committee members has been a conflict of interest, SAF committee co-chair Riley Lee-Card said. He said the ASUW abused its control of the committee in the past. He cited the early 2000s, when the ASUW saw a substantial increase in funding. During this time, the ASUW president also tried to cut SAF’s funding to The Daily.

Now, however, Van Winkle believes the ASUW fosters independence from SAF. He said the committee is critical of each and every increase, including those for ASUW.

“You are looking at the ability to fund mental health for counseling centers and whether student-parents can go to school, and then at ASUW,” Van Winkle said. “Generally, this committee does not fund aspirational things; it funds stuff that there is a demonstrated demand and need for.”

The ASUW didn’t always have to present a budget request. Before 2005, it received a flat-rate allocation of the SAF fee. The committee itself had little say over what that portion was. In order to encourage growth in the program, it switched to the current format.

“Every year a new board comes in, and, when that new board comes in, there’s going to be new ideas,” Lee-Card said. “If there is a static budget, the board isn’t doing their job.”

Fluctuating the budget

The role of ASUW Finance and Budget director is to ensure the budget is constantly changing. Salama spent two quarters working on this year’s request. After looking over previous budgets, he predicts expenses the ASUW will face over the next year. A recommendation is sent out to the individual entities within the association, who can then appeal.

“We’re controlling the increase that people are asking for,” Salama said. “Most times, we cut entities further and then make a recommendation to the Board of Directors.”

Each individual entity’s budget is determined by what they spent in the previous year. Rainy Dawg, for example, is recommended to receive $40,000 whereas the Student Health Consortium’s budget will be $10,000.

Salama said these numbers are reflective of how much each entity will actually spend on its programming. This doesn’t necessarily coincide with what each director thinks they need.

“Budgets are predicated on how much people have been actually able to spend and deliberately distribute to their constituencies,” Salama said. “At the same time, entity directors come in every year, and they want more money.”

The projected budget this year made large cuts — $14,000 of its $130,000 budget — to the Experimental College, an enterprise that suffered significant drops in usage in the past year. Salama attributed this drop to the higher costs of tuition, saying students don’t want to pay for an extra class.

The ASUW’s only other enterprise, the Bike Shop, faces minimal changes. A recent audit discovered all Husky Card transactions at the shop were going to UW Housing & Food Services rather than ASUW. After accounting for this error, the shop saw an increase in revenue and therefore faced less cuts.

“From 2008 to 2011 it was just going over our head that we should get the sales,” Salama said. “Somewhere in the paperwork it was lost that every time someone was using their Husky Card to buy something, we should get the money.”

Meanwhile, the money cut in some areas redistributed toward other entities. The new Office of Communications will cost nearly $24,000. This money will go toward advertising the ASUW.

“There’s a discrepancy on how we are portraying ourselves in the UW community,” Salama said, “and, if we are going to spend a million dollars in student funds, we need to be able to let them know they can come use these resources.”

A frugal climate

Despite working for two quarters to determine a budget, Salama said he is aware the request could get cut by the SAF committee.

“[The] Financial and Budget Committee doesn’t establish a budget; it recommends a budget, and that’s kind of how these numbers have been in place,” he said.

On the other hand, Lee-Card said the SAF committee is particularly conscious of each increase due to the current economic climate.

“Every year we look at an increase, it has to be merited,” Van Winkle said. “We could go up, which would be great, but that means students are paying $16 more a quarter.”

Van Winkle said it has been more than a decade since they used their full ability to increase the fee. The committee has the ability to increase the fee at the same rate of tuition; however, they have chosen to only increase it by a few percent.

This frugal climate is reflected by the ASUW, Lee-Card said. He attributes this atmosphere to the current Board of Directors and its relationship with SAF.

Before a decision is made on any budget, however, the committee must scrutinize each budget individually.

“In order for us to compare apples to apples, we need to know where everything is in comparison to other units,” Van Winkle said. “We try to have our units be standard as possible across the board, but it is really hard when you have something like ASUW vs. Hall Health that’s a $6 million dollar operation.”

Ultimately, Van Winkle said, it is becoming increasingly important to justify each and every part of the budget.

Reach reporter Jillian Stampher at news@dailyuw.com.

Twitter: @JillianStampher

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