Apr 292009
Authors: Jim Sojourner

Student Government President Elect Dan Gearhart was absent Wednesday night when Associated Students of CSU Senate debated and passed his more than $1.7 million budget proposal.

Vice President-Elect Tim Hole said Gearhart was on a plane to Austria to compete in a Red Bull paper airplane competition, and Hole explained the budget, which passed unchanged 19-0-3, answering questions in Gearhart’s stead.

“You couldn’t pay me enough to not be here at this time (last year),” current ASCSU President Taylor Smoot said about Gearhart’s absence.

Smoot said the budget proposal is a critical session because it determines the course of the next year and anyone in the Senate can suggest changes. He said he has never heard of a president-elect missing the session.

Hole defended Gearhart’s absence, noting that the budget proposal was supposed to go forward in last week’s Senate meeting when Gearhart planned to be available. He said Gearhart wouldn’t have been able to do anything then but answer questions anyway.

“He was there for the (Student Fee Review Board); He was there for the creation of the budget,” Hole said. “Dan made (his) argument in the form of the budget.”

“I had it under control,” he added.

The over $1.7 million budget is funded entirely by student fees and finances student programs across campus. The highest funded program next year is the Transfort bus transportation system, which will receive $520,000 from ASCSU.

Smoot said that number, an increase of over $100,000 from last years $418,000 Transfort allocation, should be finalized in the next couple weeks, but the contract signing, which was slated to be signed Wednesday, had to be pushed back to accommodate minor language clarifications.

The higher cost will be used to keep bus routes three and six running until 10:30 p.m. as opposed to the current 6 p.m. shutdown time, Smoot said, and students will be able to use their RamCards in the place of a bus pass.

“The intention is to make sure students get home safely,” Smoot said.

The negotiations with Transfort, which occur every three years, took place in closed-door SFRB meetings for the first time in student leaders’ memories, something some lawyers say may have broken Colorado open meetings laws.

The second highest fee in the budget is the allocation for the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, which includes the Collegian, CTV, KCSU and College Avenue. Although the next year’s amount is currently estimated at $484,692, the actual number will vary depending on student enrollment totals. ASCSU caps that allocation at $500,000 regardless of enrollment.

One of the hotly debated issues on the budget was the $8,000 partition to the diversity and outreach program, up $6,000 from last year.

Hole said the money will go to increase diversity programming and services and said he and Gearhart decided on the increase, which comes from a student voted initiatives fund, because it was a strong campaign platform and “brings a lot of culture to the university.”

Sen. Whitney Ruffin was the harshest opponent of the increase and supported cutting the program funding back to $2,000. During debate she said everyone in the Senate knew the fund increase was intended to help start Middle Eastern Student Services, one of Gearhart and Hole’s campaign promises.

Ruffin proposed the change because she said she was afraid the $6,000 would go to Middle Eastern diversity initiatives. Sen. Mohamed Jefri, an Arab student, replied passionately, saying the proposal was a personal attack on his ethnic group.

The verbal exchange resulted in Jefri being asked to remove himself from the Senate floor for using profane language. He was later allowed to return to the Senate proceedings and apologized for his actions.

“This has hurt,” Jefri said about the proposal later in an interview. “I’m not kidding. This has really hurt.”

Jefri said budgeting for more money for diversity and outreach can only help to improve campus and build a better understanding between people of different backgrounds and perspectives.

Assistant News Editor Jim Sojourner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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