An undergraduate-wide referendum to decrease the Student Activity Fee (SAF) to $0 for the spring semester passed with 98% of a total of 940 votes on Tuesday, Oct. 27. The voteis move follows the Student Government Association’s (SGA) decision to reduce the fall semester SAF from $110 to $82 in light of financial burdens imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill to reduce the SAF was sponsored by College Council (CC) third-year legislator and ranking member of the legislature Mo Singhal (22C), CC second-year legislator Joseph Banko (23C) and Oxford-Atlanta liaison Alyssa Stegall (21Ox). The SGA legislature unanimously passed the bill for the first time on Oct. 25 and a second time on Oct. 26. The bill was discussed in a public town hall on Oct. 26, although no non-SGA students attended the event.
Each student government division — CC, BBA Council, Emory Student Nurses Associate (ESNA) and Oxford SGA — had informed SGA that they had enough money to fund clubs through the spring semester.
Funding for SGA’s macro budget will come from its contingency account. Wiener said that the contingency account will still have the minimum balance of $50,000 required by the SGA Finance Code.
“We have an opportunity to decrease the financial burden on every student by decreasing about $110 of their semesterly cost of attendance for coming to Emory,” Singhal said.
CC Advocates for Lifting Contingency Caps, SGA Pushes Back
An initial version of the SAF reduction bill also included a provision to waive the contingency caps for each division in the 2021-2022 academic year. Contingency caps are limits on the amount of unused funds that divisions are allowed to retain from one academic year to the next. These caps are at $75,000 for CC, $45,000 for BBA Council and $35,000 for ESNA.
However, SGA introduced a separate bill for the contingency caps provision when legislators determined that the issue would require more debate and would slow the timeline of thetimely SAF reduction. SGA tabled the provision during their Oct. 26 meeting.
CC President Aditya Jhaveri (21C), one of the principal advocates for the provision, plans to suggest compromise proposals in response to opposition to the original proposal to waive contingency caps.
Wiener, who opposes the waiving of contingency caps, said he thinks the action will give CC a disproportionate amount of money compared to the other divisions.
“It clearly is a move by College Council to try to have more money in their account, but when you look at the actual amount of money that they are going to have, they don’t need that money anyway, so it’s just a weird power grabbing clout move,” SGA Vice President of Finance Ben Wiener (21C) said.
Waiving contingency caps for the next year would be “kicking the can down the road,” Wiener said, because if the SAF is charged for fall 2021, CC will exceed its contingency cap and have to pay the surplus to the contingency account regardless.
According to Jhaveri, waiving the contingency caps for the following academic year would ensure that clubs and student organizations are able to keep the money that they were promised.
“Any money that an organization doesn’t use, I believe, should still be that organization’s money and should be irrespective of an additional budget they are given for the full next year,” Jhaveri said.
Jhaveri added that transferring organizations’ unused money to the overall SGA contingency account would make it very difficult to access for clubs due to restrictions on what money in that account can be used for.
“The question is where should the money be,” Jhaveri said. “Should the money be in a contingency account that if you look historically, nobody really uses, or should it be with an organization that can directly access it.”
Wiener argued that CC would not need to use the contingency account, because its budget is already large enough.
“Even with the caps in place, College Council will have a higher budget next year by more than $140,000 and by more than 30% than they have ever had before,” Wiener said. “They will have more money than they have ever given out in a single budget year.”
Wiener also disputed Jhaveri’s argument that the overall SGA contingency account is rarely used.
BBA Council and Oxford SGA both oppose the elimination of the contingency caps, along with Director of Student Involvement, Leadership and Transitions Lisa Loveall and Associate Director of Student Governance Services VonYetta Hunter. All members of the SGA finance committee with the exception of its sole CC member also oppose the elimination of contingency caps.
“My freshman year, the 2017-2018 academic year, we pulled up a total of 18 bills that in total had something like $50,000 in funding to groups across the University,” Wiener said. “It has happened in the past, and regardless, it can happen in the future.”