Senate Notes: MassPIRG Veto Overridden

Gintautas Dumcius

The Student Senate held its first ever roll call vote to override a veto against funding a student group’s trip.

Senate President Tuan Pham, in his first ever veto, had charged the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG) Club with “double-dipping.” Since MassPIRG “presently recieves money from students through a waivable fee system,” there was no need for the senate to approve the $1141.12 the club needed to go to a conference in Hartford Connecticut, he said.

Pham said that the conference, part of a national student campaign against hunger and homelessness, was a good cause, but he had a “very serious” problem with the way the senate was funding it, adding that he wanted substantial financial commitment from MassPIRG. He admitted he would be satisfied if only 50% of the money were approved, which would cover only the conference registration cost, and not the costs for hotel and transportation.

MassPIRG officials maintain that the MassPIRG organization and its student clubs are two different entities which are funded differently. Money from the $6 dollar waivable fee has been consistently voted by a MassPIRG student board to go towards having organizers on campus and lobbying staff in Boston and D.C., they say. Added Rebecca Smalls, MassPIRG’s UMass Boston chapter chairwoman, “It’s not how the funding’s used. We don’t have access to it.” The club also says it followed all the procedures necessary for the funding request.

The senate voted unanimously to override the veto. A two-thirds majority was needed. In the days leading up to the override, questions arose over potential conflicts of interest between student senators and MassPIRG. When the senate first voted to approve the funding on Wednesday, October 22, three senators were on the list to go: Reuben Urmeneta, Fritz Hyppolite, and Sophia Wong.

When asked about the vote, Senator Urmeneta said, “I didn’t think about it that way.” He said he wasn’t sure whether he had signed up for the trip before or after the vote had been taken. He later said he had checked and he had signed up before, adding that he would abstain from the next day’s emergency meeting vote. The next day, Urmeneta made a motion to override the veto and then voted for the funding.

After the meeting, Urmeneta told The Mass Media he had decided the day before not go on the trip, and sought to clarify his previous statements. “I don’t know exactly when I signed up for the event. I know I signed up after the [Student Events and Organizations Committee] SEOC approved [it]. I don’t know when exactly.”

Sophia Wong, who sits on SEOC, said she wasn’t sure if she was going to go when she voted it out of committee, and later pulled out of the trip entirely. She left the October 22 senate meeting before a vote on the funding took place. Fritz Hyppolite chaired that meeting, and therefore did not have a vote, but also eventually pulled out of the trip.

Even after the override, it was unclear whether the funding for the trip would come through due to time constraints. The registration costs were expected to be covered, but because of purchase orders being needed for rental cars and hotel, the Office of Student Life says it needed more turnaround time than given. Normally, requests are put in six to eight weeks ahead of time. MassPIRG came to SEOC three weeks before their trip, set for October 31. It takes two to three days to make the purchase orders, and two days before the conference, Student Life hadn’t received paperwork from MassPIRG to start the purchase order. Although the paperwork did clear in time for the trip, it was cancelled unexpectedly when the bus driver became ill.

Student Senator Takes Issue With Report

Student Senator Reuben Urmeneta says he and Student Trustee Omar Bukhari have been working together to have $12 out of the $750 fee increase diverted to the Student Activities Trust Fund, and not as originally reported in last week’s Senate Notes.

“Bukhari, reportedly frustrated with [Budget and Finance Chairman] Urmeneta’s slow pace, went straight to administration officials to work out the issue,” read the report, which Urmeneta characterized as false. They both spoke about going to the administration, he said, since “there is a fee increase and we should be getting some of it.”

Over the summer, Urmeneta had warned the senate that an increase in the Student Activities Fee, currently at $62, was possible, and that he and his committee would be looking into it, as well as ways to avoid it.

“I don’t want it to happen,” he states, saying that a 20% increase was never going to happen.

“There’s already a fee increase.” He added that he and the committee would wait until Bukhari got something concrete, like a written statement from the administration, and this interval had been mischaracterized as the “slow pace.”