The Associated Students of the University of New Mexico’s (ASUNM) Steering and Rules committee approved an amendment last Wednesday, Oct. 2 that would effectively raise a portion of the fees all undergraduates pay. The government fee would increase from $20 to $25.
The bill was passed 3-1 by the Steering and Rules committee, with one abstention.
In order for the fee increase to take effect. It would have to be passed by full Senate, signed by ASUNM President Adam Biederwolf, approved by the student body with a two-thirds vote during Senate elections, and certified by the Board of Regents, UNM's highest governing body.
The amendment was drafted by Senators Ryan Regalado and Gregory Romero and was framed as a way to help student organizations receive the funding they request amidst recent budget cuts last spring. How this could be ensured still remained unclear after an interview with committee members.
“Last year we had to cut a lot of student organization budgets. We were discussing how we could fix that, and discussion came up on raising student fees,” said Emma Hotz, the chair of Steering and Rules.
In 2019, ASUNM allocated $513,618 to fund internal function, primarily the government and its agencies. That was the second-lowest in five years but continued a trend of ASUNM spending more than three-quarters of its money on itself and not on chartered student organizations.
This proposal came as UNM has experienced a 6.5% decrease in enrollment, causing ASUNM to find itself with less and less money (around $200,000 according to ASUNM Budget documents) each year. Additionally, students saw a 4.5% tuition increase this year. The decrease in enrollment means that ASUNM is working with less money than in previous years. During the 2015-2016 fiscal year (19,885 undergraduates) ASUNM collected $850,000, while they are projected to bring in only $661,454 this year (16,170 undergraduates).
Hotz said in the meeting that it is “very likely the students will not like this” and their main focus will be “educating” the students on why the change is needed.
Much of last week’s Steering and Rules meeting was spent considering ways to present the fee increase to students. The discussion involved raising awareness through their events and utilizing student organization leaders for outreach.
“I think if we came together as a senate and really pushed for this, we could really sway students…or at least help them understand how big of a deal this, because I think student organizations are a vital part of what we do on campus,” said Senator Nolan Mckim in last week’s committee meeting.
Aldrich echoed this concern in the meeting.
“If people have some out-of-the-box ideas that might help sell it better, and not just necessarily leave it up to the student to go look at it themselves, because that kind of backfires sometimes,” Aldrich said.
"It’s ultimately (the students’) decision. I was having a hard time getting that across in (the steering & rules committee meeting.) It’s the student’s choice,” he said.
Some senators cited inflation as a reason for the increase. The CPI Inflation Calculator and United States Inflation Calculator both found that $20 in 2002 is worth $28.52 today. 2002 was the last time student government fees were raised.
“With inflation and with the lack of enrollment, we think that the $5 charge is fair,” Romero said when asked why they chose the $5 increase for this bill. “Ideally, all the money is going back to the students, it’s just a matter of what organization they’re in — what they’re involved in.”
When asked whether or not senators had talked with any students before the committee meeting last week, Varela said, “No — I mentioned it to some of my friends that are not in ASUNM, but other than that, I don’t know of other people that have been consulted.”
Other senators in the committee meeting acknowledged that they hadn’t asked for student input before voting on the bill.
The average pay for a senator is $500, dispersed evenly in two stipends for the spring and fall semesters. Previously, there has been a conversation around this fee increase going towards an increase in their stipend amount. When asked whether or not these fees will go to a pay raise, Varela said the answer is complicated.
“I had the same question during the meeting — I was in the room when this bill was submitted and they were talking about a pay increase,” Varela continued. “(In committee) they said it wasn’t written in the legislation so it could be something that can be talked about — so from my understanding, for now, it will not, but I do expect there to be a movement for a pay increase.”
Varela was the one member of the Steering and Rules committee to abstain from the vote. How she will vote on the amendment during the full senate seems to be dependent on a change in information.
“Seeing the numbers, I can see why it’s supported, but I’m not convinced by it — there’s not enough information,” Varela said.
Alyssa Martinez is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @amart4447.
Alex Hiett is a beat news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Dailylobo.