As the university searches for ways out of a $16 million budget quagmire, its recently unveiled plan to tax services has come under fire by students.
During last night’s seven-hour Associated Students Legislative Council meeting, members held a forum with administrative officials to discuss the tax hike on campus entities supported by student lock-in fees. According to Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas, the non-state funded administrative fee has been set at 1 percent for the past 25 years and will now be expanded to 4 percent. Lucas said the tax increase will yield $2.9 million in revenue, which will be used to offset a part of the $16 million budget cut faced by the university.
“What we assess as a non-state funded administrative fee is small compared to other UCs,” Lucas said. “We’re faced with a huge cut on campus on top of huge cuts to begin with, so no one is going to be unaffected. … We’re trying to find a way that no one gets singled out for non-participation. It’s a horrible situation to be in, but if everyone does a little bit, it can relieve some of the burden.”
The tax is directed toward entities such as the Student Resource Building, the Daily Nexus, the Recreation Center, Student Health and Housing & Residential Services.
Lucas also said the tax increase is not limited to this fiscal year, but could possibly increase next year. According to Lucas, the state is facing at least as bad a budget cut next year, and the tax on non-state funded administrative support programs could therefore potentially reach 6 to 8 percent in order for the university to maintain its quality of education.
“You have a somewhat different set of priorities than I do,” Lucas said. “In the priority of things, yes, student services are important, but education is at the top of the list. In a budget situation where we’re trying to prioritize where to make budget cuts, we have identified teaching and research as two of our highest priorities. Does that mean we’re not cutting those budgets, no, but we’re not cutting them as much.”
Representative-at-Large Faris Shalan on the other hand, said that since only one student was present in the decision-making process, this tax is a case of taxation without representation. He noted that without student input, the administration cannot claim to act in the interest of students.
“When you tell us you have a set of priorities, we, undergraduate students, are the majority of the campus,” Shalan said. “We should be your first priority. Undergraduates play a major role in the functionality of the university, yet we play a minor role in how the university is run. The services that we sought to protect with our referenda are being attacked – that is why we’re upset. There is a constant repression of the student body.”
Additionally, Internal Vice President Kevin Higuchi said administrators should respect the inviolability of student lock-in fees. Higuchi said students have taken the burden of supporting student resources upon themselves for a reason, but the tax fails to take that into account.
“As someone who values the process of shared governance, there should be some level of sanctity assigned to student-initiated referenda,” Higuchi said. “It is the most dramatic example of students getting together and voting for their concerns.”
However, Lucas said the administration is suffering just as much from the budget cuts as the student body is.
“We’re not that distinct a group,” Lucas said. “We don’t have a completely different perspective. … It’s not like students are the only ones feeling the budget. There’s a balance of trying to spread the pain and minimize it to as little groups are heavily impacted as possible.”
Furthermore, the board discussed the administrative decision to deprive the facilities that work in Storke Plaza from the profits they currently make off of the cell phone towers in the area.
A.S. Associate Director for Media Services Elizabeth Robinson said KCSB, La Cumbre and the Daily Nexus use the revenue from the cell phone towers on top of Storke Tower to support the maintenance of the building. Robinson said the building is falling apart, but the administration had only funded repairs on one occasion.
“Early in the 1990s during one of the earlier budget cuts, [KCSB] was told if we needed more money, we had to find it ourselves,” Robinson said. “We developed an income stream, as we had been instructed by the university to do, by establishing cell [phone] sites on campus. … Two years ago, without consulting us at all, the administration decided they were going to cap our income from these streams. Now the cap has increased to $71,000 annually.”