ASUO voted to send an amendment that would “limit funding increases for continuing programs to the rate of inflation or to three percent, whichever is lower,” to a student vote in spring.
During the meeting, members of the nonprofit Oregon State Public Interest Research Group and its supporters spoke out against the amendment.
Last spring, UO students voted in support of a ballot measure that will increase OSPIRG’s budget by 113% — or $128,671 — for the 2024-26 academic years, putting ASUO in a position where it may have to prioritize funding OSPIRG over other student organizations.
OSPIRG’s budget increase would force ASUO to increase its existing overall budget above the maximum 5% increase allowed for the Incidental-Fee, a student-paid fee that makes up ASUO’s budget.
Contract Finance Committee chair Jenna Travers said in an email that OSPIRG had initially submitted a wrong year range on their initial ballot measure. ASUO and OSPIRG also agreed to reduce the amount of OSPIRG’s budget increase due to the financial strain it would put on ASUO.
While students voted in favor of the ballot measure taking effect for the 2024-26 academic years, ASUO’s Constitution Court voted in favor that the measure would go into effect in the 2023-2024 academic years.
Instead of the 113% budget increase, Travers said ASUO granted OSPIRG a 30% budget increase for the 2023-24 academic years.
She said the increase will go into effect on July 1, 2023 when the fiscal year 2024 begins.
The ballot measure does not work retroactively, so ASUO will still have to figure out a way to fund OSPIRG’s budget increase. But the amendment prevents a situation like this from happening again.
OSPIRG statewide board chair Hibah Hammad said the group aims to give University of Oregon students the resources and tools to advocate for the issues they care about.
Hammad said the CFC’s amendment would restrict student power on campus. “We as a coalition believe that we should be moving in the opposite direction and expanding the referendum process for organizations to participate in the direct representation within the system,” she said.
If ASUO’s budget increase is to exceed 5%, ASUO would need to get approval from university administration and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Travers said.
“It makes it really difficult for us to plan, and it puts us in a difficult position of trying to figure out how to do all this equitably and make sure everybody's getting what they need,” CFC member Jonah Kaplan said.
Hammad said ASUO and OSPIRG worked together last year to minimize its initial ask of a 113% budget increase but OSPIRG disagreed that a cap is the best solution.
“We think there should be other avenues of solving this, like coming up with educational trainings on how the I-Fee works and how the budgetary process works so you know how much is okay to request — things like that,” she said.
Travers said the approval by the senate will allow students to vote on the amendment to the constitution during the spring elections. She said the amendment will make groups that receive their budget through ballot measure get the same 3% budget increase that other contracted groups receive every year.
“This still legally obligates us to fund them. They still allow students to have a voice. That still allows students to vote on an amount, and then if they need more than the amount that we typically give any of our contracts in a multi-year agreement, they ask for it,” Travers said.
In addition to the amendment, ASUO sent a voluntary budget process amendment to ballot measure at their Mar. 8 meeting.
Travers said it will allow groups funded through ballot measures to voluntarily go through the budget process.
“It will allow groups to ensure their needs are met for unexpected costs such as one-time funding or economic recessions and encourages groups to utilize the budget process,” she said.