Undergraduate student government tabled a constitutional amendment on Wednesday, Oct. 9 that would raise undergraduates' government fees from $20 to $25 per semester.
After hours of back-and-forth between the 17 senators — the Student Union Building minutes away from closing — Associated Students of the University of New Mexico Vice President Madelyn Lucas approved a special session to rehash the bill on Wednesday, Oct. 16 in the Kiva classroom.
The full Senate meeting began with ASUNM President Adam Biederwolf, who previously led ASUNM agency Lobo Spirit, asking senators to vote yes for the bill. He referred to it as an "opportunity to make change" and followed by asserting that the fee raise could raise student morale on campus.
"Let's give this choice — this option — back to the students," Biederwolf said. "I don’t think something this big should come from just us (the senators). Let’s vote yes and give that option back to the students."
Finance Chair Gregory Romero then gave a presentation to the full Senate explaining ASUNM’s budget and its current financial situation, described by some senators as a "financial crisis," ahead of the vote. Romero was a co-author of the bill, Bill 6F, which proposed the $5 increase.
During the presentation, Romero said ASUNM only has $14,963.51 left until the end of this academic year. He added that this number has usually been around "60 or 70 thousand" in previous years at this point in the semester.
According to Romero, this number would be lower if they hadn’t already talked to ASUNM agencies to get some funding back.
"If (we didn’t request funding back), we wouldn’t have had any money this year," Romero said.
When the bill came to discussion, Senator Abby Lutz, who sits on the Finance Committee, aired her criticisms. She mainly targeted a lack of planning in terms of informing students of the reason behind the raise.
"It’s not up to us to say everyone can afford $5, because that’s privilege, and not everyone can," Lutz said. "I think this is a great idea, but I think there should be more preparation."
Senator Abby Aldrich agreed with Lutz and said she would have liked more time to consult with students before voting.
"We are the undergraduate representatives of the student body, and I don’t think we necessarily made this bill with that mindset," Aldrich said. She added that she didn’t want this bill to "leave a bad taste in (students’) mouth" if it fails and they have to try again.
Steering and Rules Chair Emma Hotz added that the lack of education could possibly lead to the bill failing when taken to an undergraduate vote. She also noted that the bill took many of the senators by surprise.
"This bill was written like two hours before it was supposed to be submitted," she said. "I didn’t even know about it (beforehand). Outreach and Appointments didn’t know about this until last week."
Senator Ryan Regalado, a co-author of the bill, defended the timeline.
"I do think we should have consulted students," Regalado said. "But I think this had to happen, because if we don’t pass it now, we really have to find a way to make $13,000 work until June."
Romero went further.
"If you don’t think this bill needs to be passed now, then you obviously didn’t see the presentation I just put on," Romero said. "This needs to go through now, and we will need to put in the work after."
During his presentation and the debate, Romero also defended the lateness of the bill. According to Romero, if the bill isn't passed by the next special Senate meeting (Oct. 16), the proposed increase won’t be on the ballot during student elections in November.
To send the bill on to the Board of Regents, it requires two-thirds of undergraduate voters to approve the measure. If it isn’t on the upcoming ballot, the increase couldn’t go into effect until the fall of 2020 at the earliest.
Romero said there will not be enough funding for ASUNM to continue in the spring semester and that the $14,000 they have right now will last two committee meetings "at the most."
"This has to happen now, or ASUNM will not be able to function next semester. I don’t think you understand that next semester, we will not have any money," he continued.
In the heat of the argument, Romero added that if the bill isn't passed, "good luck (without the funding) next semester because I won’t be (in the Senate)."
When asked about plans to run for re-election in November, Romero said he has "no plans as of now."
Romero’s argument was quickly challenged by Senator Ashley Varela. She asserted that although this issue is important, the bill must be more thought through before trying to change these structural issues with "a random $5."
"Passing this legislation as is will allow for broken promises," Varela said. "I think we should be writing legislation by students, not for students… (and) what I know is 81% (of our funding) goes to ASUNM agencies. Less than 20% is going to (student) organizations."
Varela added that although this isn’t inherently a reason to fail this, it must be edited, and "if that means waiting until next semester, that’s what we have to do."
During discussion, Hotz asserted that ethics are the key of Senate division on the issue. In response, Regalado doubled down on his stance.
"The worst thing that can happen is they (students) say no," Regalado said. "This is something that has to be done this semester."
Senator Matthew Zank claimed many students don’t understand what ASUNM actually does and that ASUNM should move forward on the increase.
"This may be a bold statement, but the majority of students really don’t care what we’re doing here," Zank said. "I honestly think this $5 increase is benefitting all students."
Senator Gabriel Ruja, the longest-serving member of the Senate, also noted a divide between ASUNM and the students they represent.
"There’s a disconnect between the ASUNM body and the students," Ruja said. "Talking to your friends is just not enough. We should pass this bill, and then for the next two weeks, come up with new ways to connect with students."
The fate of the proposed increase will be left up to the special full Senate meeting on Oct. 16. at 8 p.m. in the Kiva Lecture Hall.
The Daily Lobo receives 8.5% of the ASUNM budget. If this amendment were to pass, the Daily Lobo would receive more funding as a result.
Alyssa Martinez is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @amart4447
Alex Hiett is a beat news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Nmal1123