The University of Maryland’s Student Government Association passed a bill Wednesday that will add a question to its spring ballot about allocating student fee revenue to fund the salary of a MaryPIRG campus organizer.
According to SGA bylaws, student groups are not allowed to use their SGA-funded budget for anything that could be considered a salary. However, the bylaws also allow groups to request an exemption from this rule if they get a plurality vote in favor from the student body in a referendum.
Any student organization can apply to the SGA to hold a referendum like this, but MaryPIRG — a student-powered nonprofit advocacy organization — is the only organization that has applied. The group is asking for a little over $34,000 for the salary of a campus organizer.
Greeshma Anand, chapter president, said she loves holding a referendum gives students the opportunity to have a say in where their money goes.
The bill, which passed 19-14 with one abstention, was tabled for a few weeks because of confusion among SGA legislators about what the bill was actually proposing. Though the bill was about adding the referendum question to the SGA spring election ballot, some people thought the SGA would actually be voting on the funding at that moment, said Tatiana Johnson, an off-campus outlying representative and the bill’s main sponsor.
“There was just not a lot of clarity and a lot of people were confused about what the bill was,” she said. “We decided to table it so that the co-sponsor and I could reach out to legislators and just answer any questions or concerns.”
On Wednesday, the bill was removed from the table and discussed. Legislators debated adding amendments to the bill, with some representatives arguing parts of its language were misleading.
Ayelette Halbfinger, the business representative, said that though MaryPIRG identifies as a nonpartisan organization, she saw it had promoted what she said was a partisan event on its Instagram page. Halbfinger considered proposing an amendment to the bill to clarify the organization was not nonpartisan.
However, Johnson explained the post was from the chapter’s coalition partner, and MaryPIRG did not sponsor or plan the event.
Other legislators called into question the validity of the debate. Student body president Dan Alpert reiterated that the bill would allow MaryPIRG to hold a referendum and not provide them with funding.
South Campus Commons representative Gabrielle Aarons emphasized that the SGA’s job is to represent the student body and vote as representatives of that body. Having a referendum is the closest the SGA can get to letting the student body vote on where their money goes, she said.
“If we could have the student body vote on every single bill that we bring to the legislative floor, then that would be truly representative of what we want,” Aarons said.
Although some legislators disagreed with MaryPIRG’s desire to pay its staff members with student funds, the majority felt it was necessary to allow the student body to have a voice in the decision.
“It is our duty to allow them to have the option to vote,” Aarons said.