MSA geared to lobby, offer new grants

by Bryce Haugen

The Minnesota Student Association is ready for a productive semester, group President Tom Zearley said.

This semester, MSA said, it plans to spread the word about rental surveys and get students involved in fighting for University funding at the State Legislature, and hopes to get funding for a permanent late-night bus. The group will also begin offering grant money to student groups for events.

Zearley said that sometimes students don’t realize what MSA does for them.

“We’re more than a bunch of political science majors yapping (and) accomplishing nothing,” Zearley said.

Lobbying efforts

At last year’s Lobby Day at the Capitol, students from the University’s Morris campus outnumbered those from the Twin Cities campus, Zearley said.

“Seriously, we’re like 8 miles away,” he said.

MSA is working hard to improve attendance at this year’s Lobby Day, scheduled for Feb. 16, said Emily Cox, MSA Legislative Affairs Committee chairwoman. She said the group will hold an event Feb. 3 to inform students about legislative issues and rally them into action.

Whereas last year’s lobbying focused on the ill-fated bonding bill, “This year, tuition is on the line,” Cox said. “If students care about their tuition – and I think they do – they’ll turn out.”

She said that although the bonding bill, which funds University construction projects, is still a priority, “(it is) starting out in a better place” than MSA’s top priority: the University’s $42 million biennium budget request.

Mike Dean, grassroots coordinator for the University’s Legislative Network, said legislators need to pass the 2006-07 budget request to maintain the University’s quality of education and avoid the double-digit tuition increases of previous years – and students need to help.

“You can’t expect legislators to represent you unless you contact them and let them know what you think,” Dean said. “Not enough students did that two years ago, and that’s one of the reasons we got cut.”

Renters’ surveys

In fall, MSA released the results of its first-ever renters’ survey. The survey, available on MSA’s Web site, asks for the anonymous opinions of student tenants. It includes questions about the safety and the quality of rental properties and whether students would recommend their properties or landlords to friends.

The survey is an “attempt to increase accountability among landlords to the benefit of students and landlords,” said Anthony Dew, MSA Facilities and Housing Committee chairman.

MSA said it plans to distribute more results in February on its Web site and in printed form.

“Gung-ho students will start looking for houses by then,” Zearley said. “We want to get the info out as soon as possible.”

Dew said MSA will hold a renters’ rights forum in March to help first-time renters who might be easily manipulated.

Late-night bus

In October 2003, MSA conducted a late-night bus pilot program. Since then, it has been searching for grant money to permanently fund the bus, which would run every 15 minutes with stops in the Marcy-Holmes and Como neighborhoods, and throughout the University. The search continues this semester.

Zearley said MSA doesn’t plan to apply for more Student Services Fees to run the bus.

“There’s no need to unnecessarily raise (them) when we should be able to find funding elsewhere,” he said.

The late-night bus would offer redundant service, is too costly and had a “very low” number of riders during the trial period, said Mary Sienko, marketing manager for Parking and Transportation Services.

Dew, who is spearheading the money search, said the late-night bus is a popular idea and he is confident about its future.

“The money is definitely there; it’s just a matter of being strategic about receiving it,” Dew said.

New grants

The MSA Diversity Education Fund Committee, which awards grants to student groups, will begin offering $13,000 in grants for “events that are less focused on diverse or educational ends,” committee Chairman Aaron Solem said. The new grant will be in addition to grants that focus on education and diversity.

For example, Solem said, his committee considered an event-funding request from a stadium advocacy group but decided it did not fit the grant requirements.

Grants of up to $500 will be awarded to student groups for small events on or near campus.

The broader definition will allow MSA to award grants for a wider array of events, Solem said.

“It will allow student groups to get their message out and offer effective programming that, without these grants, they would not be able to do,” he said.

At its meeting tonight, MSA will likely finalize its budget request for next year. Last year, MSA received $15,000 less than it got the previous year.