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Tempers Flare over NYPIRG Funding at PSGA meeting, But a Compromise is in Sight

By Stephen DiFiore

Students line the back of the room during budget talks. More students showed up to this meeting than any other meeting in years.

The Student Senate revisited the budget that was passed the week before, due to disagreement over how big NYPIRG’s grant should be for the upcoming academic year. The room was filled with students who were supportive of restoring funding and others who were afraid that increasing the proposed funds would result in their budgets being cut.

Senators who supported the resolution were unable to identify a source of income that would make up for their proposed funds, resulting in tabling the motion for another week to give senators time to identify a source of funding. However, a meeting among interested parties that took place afterwards indicated that a compromise is on the horizon.

The cuts in the original budget went toward a variety of initiatives like Afrodisiac, minimum wage increases for student employees, and higher fees that the PSGA has to pay to the Purchase College Association.

Senators Charlie Caspari (LAS) and Steve Kollias (Comm.) introduced the resolution to restore NYPIRG’s funding from $4 to $6 per student per semester, which would cause the grant to go from $33,200 to around $49,800 depending on next year’s enrollment. The current budget estimates an enrollment of 4,150 students. NYPIRG’s grant for the current year was originally allocated at $45,228, according to the PSGA budget. However, the final number came out to $47,000 for the year.

Finance Coordinator John Sullivan said the decision to decrease spending was partly due to NYPIRG not being responsive to requests for information on NYPIRG’s funding.

“Caitlin [Houlihan, the PSGA Advisor] and I have been in communication with NYPIRG,” he said. But their communication was “cryptic at best.”

Houlihan discussed other schools’ grants during a meeting with Kevin Dugan, NYPIRG’s regional supervisor. Dugan said that those figures did not justify this cut and that the prospect of a cut was never discussed.

In a statement issued to the Phoenix, Sullivan maintained that they were "in continuous contact with Kevin over the last month and a half," and that their inquiries were "repeatedly rebuffed under the questionable guise of relevancy and validity."

Caspari and Dugan outlined NYPIRG’s funding process. NYPIRG is funded through grants issued to its statewide organization by participating colleges. It then spends that money on staff for campuses and on expertise to do research on the issues they work on, such as the environment, higher education, and voting. Elected students from each college also oversee NYPIRG’s spending on the board of directors.

Dugan said that all the money that the PSGA gives to NYPIRG can be seen at Purchase in the form of on-campus programming that is informed by the research paid for by participating schools.

“All the money you see there is coming proportionally back to this campus,” Dugan said.

Sullivan also said that there was no evidence that the cuts would result in fewer services because NYPIRG’s statewide budget will not be approved until the summer, and dismissed any concerns as “speculative.”

A document that NYPIRG provided to the PSGA said that at Purchase, NYPIRG spent $36,000, including benefits, on the pay of Project Coordinator Elisabeth Lareau.

Under the current passed budget, NYPIRG would not be able to afford a full time staff member at the same rate because the approved allocation is $33,200, less than the cost of a full time staffer. This led Dugan to say that these concerns are not entirely speculative. He said that the cuts could “possibly lead to us not being able to provide a full time staff member.”

Dugan said that Sullivan did not attempt to learn NYPIRG's funding structure or recognize the real life consequences of this cut.

As a compromise, Senator Julia Tortorello-Allen (Comm.) proposed restoring funding to $5 per student, but the senators were unable to find enough money from other lines to make up for the roughly $8,000 this would require. They proposed cutting the pay of executives as a start. Executives are the highest paid employees, largely because they have the most responsibilities. The compromise failed.

Sullivan, currently an executive who will return next year, said that it would be inappropriate to take money away from students to pay for a non-student, adding that cutting executives' salaries would make fewer people want to run for those positions. Dugan said that Lareau makes that salary because she is an experienced, full time employee with a four-year degree.

Interim President Alli McCloat, another executive, was also against this proposal.

“You don’t know how people are going to react,” she said. “If there are less hours, there are less opportunities to work.”

Caspari, who will also be an executive next year, supported cutting the executive payroll.

Dugan said after the meeting that while they would prefer the full funding, the compromise would have been easier than the current allocation.

Students on both sides of the issue gave their views on what the Senate should do.

Former Senator Soulangie Leeper (LAS) said that the cut is “counterproductive” to the school’s mission of student involvement, noting that Purchase had won an award for high voter turnout earlier this year largely due to NYPIRG's efforts.

However, Evan Liu, the Student Activities Coordinator, warned against amending the NYPIRG grant without funding, stating that even if the PSGA does not intend to cut wages to pay for NYPIRG, that is what would inevitably happen, “regardless of intent.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, senators who supported the resolution met with executives, including Sullivan, to discuss this issue.

"Senators who proposed the resolution in question met after today's senate meeting," Sullivan said in an email. "NYPIRG was represented by Charlie Caspari, and we were able to focus on the reality before us, striking a compromise that will be presented to senate next week."

Caspari said that he felt "very satisfied" after meeting with the executives.

"It was a productive meeting, very different from what happened in the senate meeting," he said.

Dugan said that he would support any plan that "ensures a full program for next year."

Sullivan also reaffirmed the PSGA's commitment to transparency and accountability.

"I'd like to thank the entirety of our senate for healthily exercising their oversight responsibility, leaving no question unanswered, and ensuring the student body was properly represented," he said. "Additionally, all members of the PSGA who attended the meeting to advocate for their respective areas allowed for our organization to have refreshing scope of who we are serving when we discuss budget numbers."

Editor’s note: DiFiore is a former intern and Board member for NYPIRG and the Managing Editor of the Phoenix, a paid student employee position of the PSGA.  



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