Budget through after stall

MSA passed its budget Tuesday after an initial vote failed.

Kyle Stowe

The Minnesota Student Association passed its budget for the 2014 fiscal year at a Tuesday forum after failing to do so two weeks earlier.

The new budget is almost 17 percent larger than last year’s and includes increased funding for MSA leadership stipends, a contentious point with University of Minnesota students.

MSA failed to pass a budget at its last forum because there weren’t enough voting members to make a decision and there was a fierce debate over stipends — which continued briefly at Tuesday’s forum.

Minnesota International Student Association Secretary of Cultural Relations John Otts said student leadership stipends should go toward campus events.

“We took these leadership positions to help others, not ourselves,” he said.

MSA’s stipends for the 2014 fiscal year total $35,500 split among 22 positions, which is about a 12 percent increase in stipend spending from last year.

MSA President Mike Schmit said MSA added new positions like a marketing director and treasurer this year, accounting for the increase. Schmit’s stipend was cut by $1,000 this year.

MSA Secretary of Programming Suji Jin said she’d like to be compensated for leading a group, but she took the job knowing she wouldn’t be paid.

“We don’t expect stipends,” she said. “We joined the student group knowing that we’re going to put in a lot of work but not get paid.”

MSA leaders disagree with the Student Service Fees Committee’s decision to cut many leadership stipends last spring, and Schmit said MSA won’t cut its own stipends just to be in line with other student groups.

“We don’t want to set the precedent that we agree with the [fees committee’s] decision of last year,” he said. “We think student groups should have stipends, especially those with roles that provide a ton of benefits to the University.”

Overall budget increase

MSA’s budget includes more funding for programming expenses, grants and advocacy efforts this year.

MSA member and Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition Chairman Matt Forstie said a 14 percent increase in student services fees largely accounted for the new revenue.

“I’m really happy to see the budget reinforced by forum,” he said.

The budget also increases total programming expenses by more than 20 percent, allowing MSA to help fund more campus events.

“There was ton of demand last year for event grants for student groups,” Schmit said. “We wanted to further meet that demand.”

Schmit said moving into a new office space on the second floor of Coffman Union was another added expense.

“There’s a lot of things we needed to purchase and replace,” he said. “It’s part of the process of moving into the new office.”

MSA leaders were worried the lack of a budget would delay disbursement of student group grants. But Grants Director Connie Dong said MSA bylaws allowed leaders to pass a temporary $5,000 operational budget and provide some funds to student groups.

If the temporary budget wasn’t passed, Dong said, student groups wouldn’t have received grants at all in the interim.

“A lot of groups rely on MSA for grants to fund their events, she said. “Being unable to distribute those grants would have been bad.”

Though many MSA leaders are happy the budget passed, some students are still critical of it.

Drew Christensen, an MSA representative from Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, said voting members should have taken a closer look at the budget before rushing to vote. He said he’s concerned there’s an “overwhelming feeling” in the forum that voting members don’t want to take time to discuss the budget line-by-line.

“It’s up to us as voting members to do the due diligence on the budget and to be responsible stewards of the students,” he said. “We need to think further about how we spend this money.”