“Raise the damn student fees,” reverberated through the Steering and Rules Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 5.
John Cooke, Interfraternity Council (IFC) president and Sigma Chi Fraternity vice president, delivered that statement. He was referring to two constitutional amendments — Bill 4S and Bill 5S — that would raise student fees at a $5 flat rate and a prorated rate of $2.08 per credit hour, respectively.
“As it has been said before by (Deputy Chief of Staff Victoria Peña-Parr), our student orgs have doubled here since 2000, as well as the fact that inflation is a thing, things are way more expensive now, and the fact that our enrollment is down,” Cooke said during public comment.
Peña-Parr and Chief of Staff Jacob Silva have spearheaded outreach efforts to student organizations, according to finance chair Abby Lutz. Silva said their ad hoc committee has reached out to 16 student organizations so far to discuss the possible fee raise.
These bills are nothing new for the committee.
Last semester, talk of a budget crisis loomed over senators as their budget diminished with every appropriation. Like Bill 4S, Bill 6F aimed to be a solution by increasing student fees by $5 per semester.
After a late night special session, several public comments and extensive debate, the bill ultimately failed for two key reasons — one being a lack of outreach to students, and the other because of a one-time funding block of $500,000 doled out by Student Fee Review Board to keep the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico (ASUNM) functioning this spring, as previously covered by the Daily Lobo.
Many ASUNM senators hope this time around will be different. Emma Hotz, president pro tempore and former steering and rules chair, is an author and sponsor of both bills.
Hotz explained that because ASUNM is primarily funded by the student government fee and because enrollment has dropped, this fee raise is of paramount importance for ASUNM to continue to function.
“As enrollment was going up, student organizations were also going up and agencies also increased,” Hotz said. “So with that, (ASUNM) were getting more student fees and we were getting a larger budget, so we were steadily increasing the budget as student enrollment increased and same with student orgs.”
But because of inflation and enrollment declines, Hotz and the other authors of the bills believe a fee raise is the most apt solution.
“If we do increase the fee, we will have a lot more money to give out,” finance chair Abby Lutz said. “Mostly what the students will see is more opportunities for them, whether it’s through their own student organizations or more things provided to them through ASUNM.”
Lutz explained ASUNM puts on several events — such as Fiestas, Spring Storm and a slew of others — throughout the academic year that all students can attend them “free” because they are funded by the government fee. Aside from ASUNM events, chartered student organizations can request funding from ASUNM — either through the budget or appropriation process — to “help them, help fund some of their events, and help get them started.”
The $25 figure asserted in Bill 4s took multiple sources into account. Silva said they arrived at $25 “because $20 in 2002 is worth $25 now” and because in “amount of outreach (he’s) done so far with the amount of student organizations that (he’s) talked to, they feel comfortable raising it to $25.”
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI inflation calculator, $20 in 2002 has the same buying power as $28.91 in Dec. 2019.
Still, talk of raising the fee higher is not completely off the table. During his public comment, Cooke said he wouldn’t mind seeing a larger increase.
“I personally believe that $5 is not enough, I believe that you should do more, I believe it ought to be raised every 5 years,” Cooke said. “I would suggest you get it done as fast as possible, because I think sooner rather than later we will start seeing the consequences if we do not raise these student fees — we will see more starting to get cut, and these orgs on campus already do not have enough support from the administration as a whole at UNM.”
Senator Matthew Zank echoed this belief.
“Personally, I’d like to see the fee be raised more, but that’s something we can see about next week, especially after public comment,” Zank said.
As of right now, Silva said he remains by the $5 increase.
“If more students feel that way (about a higher increase), I would feel more open to the idea, but as of right now, I feel comfortable seeing it at $25,” Silva said.
Steering and Rules Senator Timothy Mondloch expressed that he believes both bills should be passed so all senators could discuss the merits of each at full senate and reminded senators who was at the heart of these bills.
“At the end of the day, we represent the students,” Mondloch said.
Hotz reiterated this sentiment and encouraged students to consider how the increase could impact students on the whole.
“I think it’s important for students to keep an open mind,” Hotz said. “At first, I wasn’t really sure if I was on board with it either, but I think trying to weigh the costs and the benefits and trying, as an individual student, (to) see where it benefits other students and where it benefits (them) as well, but also if you want to do the cost-benefit analysis, how it can also hurt other students, like of lower income.”
Both bills were passed in committee and will now travel to the full senate meeting on Wednesday, Feb. If either passes, it will need to be signed by the president, vice president and pro tempore and approved by their legal counsel before being left with the student body to vote on during the presidential elections in March.
In all, Hotz reiterated the importance of student input on the fee raise.
“I think it’s really important for students to vote in general, (and) if they do have any opinions, come to full senate, come speak to senators, because we — as people who want to serve for the University and for the students — we do want to hear opinions and there may be opinions we haven’t heard before,” Hotz said.
Appropriations Round Up
Nearly $26,000 in appropriations was approved by the finance committee.
Dance Collective UNM was appropriated $359. Mountaineering Club was appropriated $1,339. UNM Women’s Rugby was appropriated $18,302. ASUNM Senate was appropriated $2,362. HOSA was appropriated $362. American Society of Civil Engineers was appropriated $2,909.
These appropriations will not be allocated until they are passed at the next full senate on Feb. 12.
Alyssa Martinez is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @amart4447