By Nick Arbaugh, Columnist
It should be obvious by now that our Student Senate has a serious problem. With clubs and other organizations flooding the Senate with budget requests in the thousands for trips, fundraisers, and parties, we have allotted somewhere near $30,000 in expenditures thus far.
That’s out of around $90,000 total for the year. Yep, that’s right. We have allotted roughly one third of our budget in approximately two months.
“How could we have spent so much in such a short timespan?” one might ask.
Unfortunately, that is the status quo.
This Student Senate, barring some exceptions, is largely identical to the Senate that last year ran over its budget by roughly $20,000. Being unable or unwilling to control our spending, we became the financial yes-men of the entire school.
Somewhere along the way we tapped into Gettysburg’s Lutheran roots, running our government by a misinterpretation of Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you”. You may have noticed by now that I have been using the word ‘we’ when referring to actions by the Senate. That’s because I was a Senator, sitting alongside my colleagues blithely signing off on budget after budget. I was part of the problem. As I have remained a Senator, now I’d like to be part of the solution.
Before we can even begin to change the way Senate money is doled out, we need to change the attitudes of the Senate itself towards fiscal responsibility. Far too many Senators are in the same state of mind as I was last semester: You show up, you sit down, you say “Here”, and you vote yes.
Occasionally a club with a controversial request comes along and you are temporarily roused from your slumber, but just as quickly as you awaken you are lulled back to sleep by the dreariness of parliamentary procedure. That needs to end.
President Luke Frigon heralded in his administration with calls for Senate to become an activist body, and you don’t get there with an attitude of “Clock in, Clock out.”
As was somewhat witnessed on the meeting of the 16th of October, Senate should be lively. The debate over funding should be passionate, Senators should act out of both conscience and common sense, and no Senator should enter the meeting with an expectation of hitting Bullet Hole 15 minutes later.
We should be running through club budgets with a fine-tooth comb, cutting off small pieces of the pie here and there to avoid having to cut an entire pie somewhere down the line. No dollar amount, all of which is money supplied by our peers, should be looked at as too little or insignificant to care about.
The position of Senator is one that our colleagues entrust to us so that we can ensure that their tuition money is being utilized in the best way possible and there is no room for laziness or apathy when we are spending other people’s money.
Once we develop political energy within the Senate, we should work together to reform the way that the Senate and clubs interact with one another regarding club fundraisers. I’ve proposed an amendment to the Senate Policy Committee that would dynamically alter the way clubs can fundraise using Senate seed money.
By ensuring that fundraisers that solely benefit clubs are held accountable for reimbursing the Senate’s initial investment to their best ability, we not only cut down costs to the New Initiatives Account (our main account) but we incentivize clubs to pursue efficient, effective, and fruitful fundraisers. The less money they acquire from Senate to kindle their fundraiser and therefore are required to return, the more funds they will be able to generate for themselves.
Fundraisers in which the proceeds would go solely to charity would of course be exempted from this, and fundraisers in which the proceeds would be split between clubs and an outside organization would see 50 percent of the money that clubs take home for themselves returned to the Senate. Even though we are talking about incremental change, small victories and savings on budgets compile into large ones.
After we change the attitude and enhance a few policies of the Senate, we need to change its message. When clubs look at Senate right now, they see a treasure chest that is waiting to be plundered. Therefore, they stack their budgets with big ticket items and dive as quickly as they can into the fray. And who can blame them? It certainly isn’t wrong to pursue your own interests.
If Senate is bequeathing money to clubs with nary a concern then why wouldn’t you want to grab your share? That’s why this change doesn’t need to come from clubs, but from the Student Senate. The Senate, as laid out by its Constitution, is charged with making fiscal decisions in a manner akin to a household budget. As all of us who grew up without unlimited resources know, sometimes compromise is needed and disappointment or delay is part of managing that budget. Sometimes hands must be swatted when reaching for one too many cookies from the jar.
A club representative’s face shouldn’t bear a look of consternation when questioned about their budget, but resolve and tenacity. The role of the club representative is to fight in the Senate for their club’s interests, and they should be ready to do so when they bring budget proposals to the floor. At the same time, the role of the Senate is to make sure that it is getting the best bang for its buck. And the only way to get there is by being primed and ready to say no, compromise, and make tough choices.
Senate should send a message throughout this year to clubs that we are going to scrutinize every inch of what you send us and if your budget is found wanting then we are going to ask you to take another look. Clubs should be crunching the numbers, saving pennies where they can, and making difficult decisions before they even come before Senate.
I understand what I am asking for is a lot. and that I played the same role as my fellow Senators in getting us to where we are today. And I truly hope that this article isn’t elucidated as an attack or a rebuke to anyone. Nevertheless, we have spent a third of our budget to date and I believe now is the time to modify our approach. We simply cannot do again this year what we did last year. Cuts are never easy. It’s never fun or cool to be the person saying ‘no’. But I am probably not the first person to tell you that Senate is neither fun nor cool.
The author, Nick Arbaugh, is a Senator representing the class of 2020.