ASI president switches position on student activity fees

Student Activity Fees Graphic::Megan Harris - State Hornet

Student Activity Fees Graphic::Megan Harris – State Hornet

Timothy Sandoval

Associated Students Inc. President Terry Martin switched his position from encouraging ASI to draft a resolution opposing student fee increases that support athletics and The State Hornet to stating that he was not sure ASI should take a position on the fees.

The issue stems from a 2009 student vote, in which students rejected fees that support athletics and the Hornet newspaper. Despite this, Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez increased student activity fees that support athletics by $18 in 2009-10, this year by $22, and will increase them $22.50 in 2011-12 – making the athletics fee add up to $125 per semester.

The State Hornet fee was also increased by 50 cents this year- adding up to a total of $3 per semester. 

Both votes were advisory to Gonzalez.

After his State of the Students address in March, Martin said he “strongly disagreed” with Gonzalez’s decision to overturn the student vote.

He said ASI should pass a resolution stating its position on Gonzalez’s decision, and said that he had been working on one.

“It’s something that I have been working on with several other board members for the duration of the year,” Martin said. “So something should go out before my term is over. But I think it really is a crying shame that it’s taken this long.”

But Martin downplayed the work that he had done on this issue in a subsequent interview, and said he was unsure whether ASI should take a position on the fees.

“It’s an idea that has been going around,” Martin said. “But it is kind of an old issue.”

When asked if he had switched his position, Martin replied: “Basically,” Martin said. “But I still feel strongly about the issue.”

Martin said that he would present the issue to ASI Board, and talk to the administration to get more information on the subject. He said that it was up to the ASI Board whether any action would be taken.

“It really comes down to what new information we find,” Martin said.

In another interview, Martin said the fact that Gonzalez could only reject or accept the student vote with “no wiggle room” had begun to change his thinking on the matter.

“It is a complex issue,” Martin said. “Accepting the student vote would have led to athletics having to cut some its programs, and led to less educational opportunities for students.”

After his State of Students address, Martin also said he wished last year’s ASI President Roberto Torres had taken a stronger position on Gonzalez’s decision, and felt Torres had not done so for “political reasons.”

Last year, ASI passed a resolution stating that it wanted more transparency from the athletics department on how it was spending student fee dollars, but took no position on Gonzalez’s decision. Martin voted in favor of the resolution.

Torres said he brought to the ASI Board the possibility of suing the CSU and Sac State to rescind the fees. The idea was rejected because ASI felt it would be too costly.

“We had the option, and good legal grounds, to sue the CSU, and Sac State, for a violation of state law,” Torres said. “This is what students wanted, but was it the best option for us? I did not believe so, and neither did the board, which Terry Martin was a part of and agreed with.”

Torres said the legal battle could have cost student fee-supported ASI hundreds of thousands of dollars – with legal fees of up to $200 per hour – and cost Sac State and the athletics department more money as well, further impacting Sac State.

“As a leader of the student body, I did what was best for students, not what was popular at the moment – something that our current leaders forget needs to be done at times,” Torres said.

Martin said a lawsuit is currently off the table because he is unsure whether a lawsuit would be successful. 

“The president’s powers are very vast,” Martin said. “If we were to bring a lawsuit, we would have to make sure that students were getting the best bang for their buck.”

The Hornet on March 3 requested an interview with Gonzalez. John Kepley, special assistant to the president, said Gonzalez was not available to speak to the Hornet.

Kepley said for both programs, inflation and increased costs were the main reason behind Gonzalez’s decision.

“Especially with athletics, tuition had increased so much that there was a need to increase the fee to pay for scholarships,” Kepley said.

With the $18 per semester increase in student activity fees, athletics brought in $4.5 million in revenue from student fees last year – the department’s largest source of revenue. The previous year, student activity fees brought $3.5 million in revenue to athletics.

Sac State has 16 sports teams for the 2010-11 school year.

The Hornet reported in February that despite the increase in student fees, the sports program ran a deficit in the 2009-10 school year.

According to Sac State Athletics accounting documents, athletics ran a deficit of $417,959 for the 2009-10 school year, after encumbered expenses and revenue from the Sacramento Mountain Lions football team are taken into account.

Sac State sports spokesman Brian Berger said the primary reason for the deficit was the installation of new field turf in Hornet Stadium, which will be fully paid for in 2014. He said the projects’ costs are not being paid for with student fees or with state money.

Berger said the addition of field turf allows Sac State to host more events at Hornet Stadium, including the United Football League’s Sacramento Mountain Lions, which brought $300,000 of revenue for sports in 2009.

The Sacramento Mountain Lions hosted its debut season at Hornet Stadium last year and will host the MoLos for the 2011 season.

With the 50-cent increase in the Hornet fee implemented this year, the newspaper is projected to bring in $138,293 in revenue from student fees, up from the previous year in which it made $134,196 from student fees, a 3 percent increase.

Holly Heyser, faculty adviser to the Hornet, said this year’s total projected student fee revenue actually represents a decrease in funds from student fees from just two years.

Two years ago – without the 50 cent increase – the newspaper brought in $140,161 from student fees.

The revenue is less this year due to decreased student enrollment, Heyser said.

The fee originally approved by students in 1999 was $2.50 per student per semester, but by 2009, that was worth $1.96 in 1999 dollars, Heyser said. 

“We tried to keep the fee increase as reasonable as possible,” Heyser said. “If the original fee had been structured to keep up with inflation, it would have increased slowly over that decade. But that’s wasn’t how it was designed, so we needed a 50-cent increase just to get us closer to the original value of the fee.”