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Students concerned for campus fallout if allocable fees become optional

During a panel discussion Associated Students of Madison Legislative Affairs Committee Chair Sally Rohrer said allowing students to opt out of allocable segregated fees would be "a disaster."

Image By: Nina Bertelsen

“A disaster,” is how Sally Rohrer, a student government leader, described the provision in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal to make allocable segregated fees optional.

UW-Madison student leaders are concerned, and seek to inform students about the value of groups and organizations that could be on the chopping block.

Sitting in the ASM office, Student Services Finance Committee Chair Colin Barushok gestured to the ceiling of the Student Activity Center’s 4th floor and the 3rd floor below him and said, “[Students] don't realize these whole two floors are supported by seg fees. These groups are supported by seg fees. The bus pass is support through seg fees.”

According to Barushok, ASM anticipates that many students would opt out of the fee. He said that it is perfectly natural for students to want to save money and noted that incoming freshmen wouldn’t know the value of groups funded by allocable fees.

“They might not know all of the services that are in jeopardy,” said Barushok.

Segregated fees are included as a line item in the tuition bill students pay every semester. Part of this fee is non-allocable and goes to institutions like University Health Services and Rec Sports. The allocable portion funds the free bus passes used by 70 percent of students, ASM programing, General Student Services Fund groups like Badger Catholic, Sex Out Loud, Working Class Student Union and more.

While the non-allocable groups have contracts and budgets subject to final approval by the chancellor’s office, all financial decisions are made by the Student Services Finance Committee. This group is comprised of ASM appointees and elected officers who meet twice a week to hear, debate and approve of all expenditures of segregated fees.

Proponents of Walker’s proposal say that students shouldn't have to pay to fund groups they don’t agree with.

“[Walker’s] seg fee opt-out allows students the freedom to decide for themselves if they want to fund a select few student orgs or not,” Alex Walker, former chair of College Republicans at UW-Madison, tweeted.

However, SSFC Secretary Kyle Watter thinks financial fallout won't be as great as some predict. He said the group’s viewpoint neutrality requirement makes a very strong argument. This standard was established by U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2000, which said that because every student pays the fee, the group who controls spending can not make decisions based on values or beliefs.

Barushok said he is happy to pay his fee for free access to the Madison bus system.

“And I’m perfectly happy that my fee goes to support students who want to go to Badger Catholic or goes to support students who want to go to VETS even though I'm not a vet, I'm not Catholic, I don't go there. If everyone who's not a vet opts out the there would be no VETS, and that would be an overall worse situation.”

He added the revised approach does not make economic sense as a college affordability measure. He explained that because the segregated fee paid by each student is so small, students get a lot more benefits for a decreased cost when money is pooled together.

“Overall it's just not logical that it decreases the burden on students because either way we're going to have to pay for these things,” Rohrer said.

Ariela Rivkin, chair of the Grant Allocation Committee, stressed that even if students opted out the need for funds would remain the same it would just decreased the “pool” ASM could pull from.

Shared Governance Committee Chair Omer Arain told The Daily Cardinal that every time a student swipes their ASM bus pass, ASM is charged $1.15. If a student uses their pass once per day, they will more than make up the fee they pay.

Arain speculated that if the allocable fees go away the cost would simply be absorbed by other parts of campus and ultimately would cost students the same amount, with less student voice in decision-making.

Students are not the only group to critique Walker’s plan. Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said she is strongly opposed to this proposal.

“I think it's a very shortsighted policy and there's some really important systems that could be impacted,” said Taylor. “I really think students should have the authority to distribute their own fees without this legislature micromanaging them.”

Additionally, Dean of Students Lori Berquam sent a letter to the Joint Finance Committee urging them to remove this provision.

The Joint Finance Committee will also be the target of ASM and the Legislative Affairs Committee’s lobbying efforts to block this part of the budget before it goes to state legislature.

“I am optimistic we will win,” Barushok said

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