Summer taxes to be withheld, emergency funds will last nine months
After ASMSU’s general assembly turned down a bill to move all funds to an on-campus account monitored by MSU’s administration, ASMSU President Evan Martinak was expecting an action in the near future — and it finally hit.
ASMSU, MSU’s undergraduate student government, officially was notified Tuesday that the university will be withholding the upcoming summer semester student tax, which primarily supports the organization, according to documents received by The State News.
A memorandum sent from Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Mark Haas and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Services Denise Maybank stated the organization “will not receive any further tax dollars” after missing the April 5, 2013, deadline for moving funds from off-campus accounts to the university financial system.
A two-year, ongoing battle between the student government and university has hit the boiling point, and the future is foggy for ASMSU.
Why is this happening?
“There’s a set of issues that have been brewing for a while that caused the board and others to ask that we develop accountability measures,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said. “Those accountability measures have been in place for a little bit and now, collectively, we believe there needs to be compliance.”
ASMSU has been under the scope of the university since its previous tax freeze in 2011. Issues with external and internal audits led to the most recent tax freeze.
ASMSU will not receive its $18 per student per semester student tax starting with this summer semester, University Spokesman Kent Cassella said.
In a memorandum sent to ASMSU on Feb. 26, Haas cited previous audits as the main reason for withholding funds. The memorandum sent from Haas and Maybank required five things to be revised or changed before ASMSU can receive student taxes: revisions to investment and other off-campus bank accounts, compliance with MSU’s manual of business procedures, revisions of ASMSU governing documents, outside employee services and legal services.
In a document The State News received, a letter addressing the ASMSU 2010-11 audit pointed out several areas that raised red flags, including the loan program’s lack of activity records for the 2010-11 academic year and “no manual providing details over the usage” of the organization’s purchase card for miscellaneous expenses.
Documentation also showed ASMSU did not have any record of accounts payable and receivable – money the organization owes and money the organization has a right to collect. Rather, it relied on monthly bank statements from MSU.
In a previous interview, Haas stated there were problems with ASMSU’s internal and external auditors.
Martinak said issues found in the audits prior to 2011 were caused by errors made by “a forced university employee, an individual who ASMSU did not have supervisory oversight over.”
Martinak also said the group has hired its own business office manager since 2011 and “subsequently has not had any substantial findings in audits or financial reviews.”
Cassella was unable to refute the accusations Martinak made toward the errors he said university official made. But Cassella said there has been a pattern of errors throughout the past several years, which is why MSU is trying to work with ASMSU by monitoring its funds.
Writing on the wall?
ASMSU’s and MSU’s administrations have predicted two different outcomes from the university’s most recent funding demands.
“MSU, the Board of Trustees and the administration have a responsibility to ensure student tuition dollars are being spent appropriately — that’s across campus,” Cassella said. “In this discussion we are having with ASMSU leadership, all we’re asking and trying (to do) is to help coordinate meeting the same standards that we are holding all of MSU to.”
In a previous interview, Haas said the university is not looking to tell ASMSU how it can and can’t spend its money.
However, when Martinak was asked the same question of what can happen from this, he told a different side of the story.
“If you take an almost 50-year-old student government that has enjoyed a large amount of autonomy and strip it of its legal services, strip it of its ability to have off-campus accounts, strip it of its power to hire and fire its employees, strip it of how it conducts its government activities, what would you call it?” Martinak said. “The writing is on the wall.”
Martinak is not alone. A petition started by ASMSU at Change.org had more than 830 signatures as of Tuesday night.
However, genomics and molecular genetics sophomore Theresa Kaminski said she sides with the university, believing the student government shouldn’t have the university issue the tax if it wants to keep funds off-campus.
“If the student government wants to be mainly students, they shouldn’t be looking to the university for funds,” Kaminski said. “If the university is allowing us to pay taxes to ASMSU, the $18 (tax,) then I think that’s (the) university’s right to say, ‘You need to come back onto campus and work with us and through us,’ because the university is here for students as well.”
As quickly as possible
ASMSU has made it clear its services and events are in jeopardy without the student tax.
While Martinak previously said the organization mainly is funded from the student tax, he said students should not worry about any direct changes in the near future.
“Absolutely not,” Martinak said when asked if any of the normally offered services, such as Blue Books, already have been cut. “ASMSU will continue to be fully functional, will be fully functional for first nine months.”
While the organization still remains “fully functional,” some of the general assembly representatives are cautious and worried about the impact the loss of the student tax will have on the program.
ASMSU Lyman Briggs College representative James Conwell supports standing up to the university, but he said he still is concerned about what the future might hold.
“I am worried,” Conwell said. “We can only function for nine months, so with that being said, I want to see this resolved as soon as possible.”
Like Conwell, both sides are looking for this to be resolved quickly.
Cassella said the standards listed in the memorandum aren’t going to change, but MSU is continuing to work with ASMSU to get the conflict resolved as soon as possible.
On the other end, Martinak said he has no problem with dipping into the $500,000 set aside for risk management to achieve what the organization wants.
“We want to get this resolved as quickly as possible,” Martinak said. “Find some resolution without comprising values and tradition.”