Fee flip-flop: Increase would save A.S. programs

Chico State University’s Associated Students government is considering asking students this spring to approve $55 per year in fee increases—even though the last hike was expected to hold the organization through the 2007-08 school year.

“I know that’s a huge thing to be talking about,” said A.S. President Michael Dailey in a Jan. 26 report to Governmental Affairs Committee members. “This is very discouraging.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed $240 million in budget cuts to CSUs, combined with a drop in enrollment figures, prompted a group of student leaders and A.S. staff to conclude over the winter break that a fee increase is the only way to keep programs intact.

Students currently pay $82 a year in activity fees for a total of $1.24 million that is added to $450,000 in grants to go toward programs such as Community Volunteers in Education (CAVE), the Community Legal Information Center, KCSC radio, the Women’s Center and the Children’s Center. In 1999, students voted to raise their activity fees in tiers, going up from $40, with added annual increases of about 2.5 percent to cover inflation. It was expected to see the organization through 10 years, until spring of 2008. In 1998, students had voted to increase their student union fee by $10 to help fund the recycling program, Adventure Outings and A.S. Programming.

When the last activity fee increase was voted upon, it was assumed that Chico State would continue to have at least 16,000 students enrolled. Since then, enrollment has dropped to 15,200 and is projected to be 14,500 next year.

“We’re going to dip into reserves so much that we’re going to be out of working capital by 2006-07,” Dailey calculated. “That means we are in debt, basically, by ‘06-'07 if we continue on this trend we’re going on.” A $7.50-per-semester increase would make the fund solvent through 2011-12.

Without an increase, the A.S. would have to cut its budget by 14 to 15 percent, or $200,000, Dailey said. To keep the proposed increase down, the GAC would make $100,000 in cuts, most of them in the student government office.

The total increase would amount to $27.50 per semester, because $20 would go to help fund the student union, which is in even “worse condition” than the activity fee, said Joyce Friedman, the A.S.'s financial director. That’s due largely to Bell Memorial Union construction cost overruns eating up reserves.

A.S. Executive Vice President Adam Dondro said it’s probably better to put both fee increases on the same ballot rather than ask for a hike this year and another in spring 2005. “As far as the general population is concerned, A.S. is A.S.,” he said. “It’s not two separate pots to them.”

Dailey added that this plan is based on the “best-case scenario” of voters passing Schwarzenegger’s $15 billion bond in March. “If that doesn’t pass, we’re in huge trouble,” he said.

The GAC will vote Feb. 2 on whether to put a referendum for an increase to the activity fee on the April 14-15 ballot. Both fees must also go before the A.S. Board of Directors, the Campus Fee Advisory Committee and the university president.