Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Nearing Success

Last night, after months of effort on my part, the ASUW took another important step in changing the culture of student fees. As I blogged last month, the GPSS and seemingly the Campus Affairs Committee of the ASUW Student Senate endorsed the Student Technology Fee (STF) Committee's request to increase the STF by $3 per student per quarter. That's a roughly $400,000 increase in funds available for allocation. As an interesting comparison, it is exactly the amount the Services & Activities Fee (SAF) Committee was able to cut from it's budget last year by asking questions and demanding straight answers.

As it would turn out, Campus Affairs reconsidered the resolution and after a change in tactics on my part (switching from demanding zero growth to supporting slow growth of a $1) recommended only a dollar increase to the full Senate. Last night that proposal was given its proper deliberation complete with a battle royal between myself and the current STF Chair. We spared on issues of longterm budgeting, I-601 spending limitations, and how proud democrats can avoid being labeled "tax and spend" democrats by asking a few simple questions and holding to a few basic principles.

The amendment to restore the full $3 increase was defeated overwhelmingly and $41 was approved. Unfortunately, this puts us into a strange position. The GPSS has formally endorsed a $3 increase while the ASUW has endorsed a $1 increase. How do we rectify these two positions? In the past the two governments have just split the difference... so we end up with a two dollar increase. This is not okay with me.

The STF Chair says the University Attorney General's office informed the UW's Planning & Budgeting Office that the STF is not under the restrictions of I-601, the State's citizen approved spending initiative. Having reviewed the legal materials available to me and the administrative policy statement on which I assume the AG's office rests, I don't have a lot of faith in this fun game of legal phone tag. I spoke with a couple other law students (most of whom comprise the GPSS officer corp) who all agree that this kind of novel legal opinion should only be accepted if accompanied by a legal brief. Until I see the brief, I remain skeptical.

Now we'll see if the AG can produce the brief or if it's just bogus grandstanding. Based on previous legal opinions from the AG on student fee issues, I doubt I'm going to have a lot of faith in the brief even if it does exist. But now the only person's opinion who really matters is the GPSS President.


Karl Smith said...

Oh yes, about last night, in future discussions can we afford the term "fiscally conservative" and perhaps replace it with "fiscally responsible"? See, the term as a whole means to spend money with caution and good judgment, no? So since "fiscally" has to do with the money aspect, what do we mean by its "conservative" companion? Good judgment?

Frames are oh so important and this isn't strictly academic by any means, you know? The term "conservative" as it is usd today is greatly distorted from its original meanings - who would have originally thought a "conservative" would increase total spending by 42 percent?? - so "fiscally conservative" is simply a frame from which the right-wing benefits.

Sean Kellogg said...

You're totally right... I slipped when I said it at the meeting and was surprised no one called me on it. Fiscally conservative is not what I'm going for at all... that would imply the way we've done it before is the right way. Not my thinking at all. Rather, I want to make sure when we decide to make changes we do it based on good solid information, not conjecture and well minded intentions.

Yes, fiscally responsible is much better.

But the real question for you, Karl, is this... Halla thinks I went over the top with my bit about shedding the "tax and spend" label. Thoughts?

David Morgan Jr said...


ethan said...

1) I have issues with propaganda in general, and labeling your own spending "responsible" while labeling everyone else's "conservative" or "liberal" or "just plain dumb" is a little disingenuous. Everyone thinks of their own spending as "responsible."

2) I'm confused at your post -- you say that you are "not okay with this" and then proceed to talk about some initiative that I've never heard of. What's the connection that I, the layperson, am completely missing?

Sean Kellogg said...

Ethan, your question is quite right... I don't really explain the connection between STF and I-601. I'll try to explain here.

I-601 is a spending and fee limitation initiative passed years ago. The only reason I'm interested in it in this context is to provide legal cover for the GPSS to compromise at $41 instead of $42. $42 would be an illegal increase if I-601 actually applies (an issue currently up for debate).

I have a host of policy arguments about why $41 is better than $42, but it always helps to have a few legal arguments to throw into the mix.

Regarding your first point... you're right, everyone thinks their spending is responsible. Thankfully there exist some objective criteria that an outsider can apply to see if it really is responsible. Like, do you have all the information? Is there a rationale for this spending level that excludes a different level? Is this option more compelling, based on whatever criteria people think is relevant, than another option?

But you're right... spending rhetoric is nasty stuff. That being said, I don't like the idea that spending is done based majority whim. Every corporate entity on the planet has a methodology of reviewing and going forward with expenditures... governments should look to the economic engines of the world in helping come up with rational spending models.

Karl Smith said...

Ethan, regarding your post point (the only one I can dare attempt to answer), I would suggest that "propaganda" is precisely what I am trying to avoid. I think the proper term for responsible spending - regardless of my personal values - is, well, "fiscal responsibility." I think the term "fiscally conservative" serves as a form of propaganda for that group of people that label themselves as "conservatives."

George Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant" is a very short and very enjoyable introduction to the power of frames and how the "Conservatives" have mastered the art.

Sean, as for the "tax and spend" portion of your speech, well, I'm not sure. It's a pejorative label, but I don't want to give the impression I'm not for paying taxes and having the government provide valuable social services. The conservative frame here is powerful - if you're a "tax-and-spend" liberal, you're for out of control spending; if you say you're not a "tax-and-spend" liberal, you come across as being opposed to both (which is supposed to be somehow good). *shrug*