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Friday, October 15, 2021

Longstanding tension with UCSA may shift with new administration

The debate over who will lobby for UC Davis at the Capitol has resurfaced as student administration turnover may shift responsibility from the ASUCD Lobby Corps to the UC Students Association (UCSA).

Debate over whether to pay dues and join forces with UC-wide lobbying efforts in Sacramento has been ongoing for six years now. UC Davis withdrew membership from the association in 2006, when ASUCD signed a resolution and bill to disassociate ASUCD from UCSA. It is currently the only UC campus that does not belong to the association.

Both lobbying organizations advocate for the protection of public education funds. Yet structural differences between the two groups have contributed to an aggressive campaign against rejoining UCSA – an option under consideration by ASUCD senator and presidential candidate Adam Thongsavat.

“All options are on the table,” said Thongsavat, who is running unopposed. “We’ll have to be the most resourceful and the most innovative as possible. Anything that mitigates the intrusive cuts to higher education shouldn’t be off the table.”

Current ASUCD President Jack Zwald, as well as previous presidents, have staunchly opposed joining UCSA. Officials last year passed a constitutional amendment, ensuring that “Fee referendums cannot be passed for dedicated fees towards membership dues for any external organization,” which Zwald said includes UCSA.

“UCSA has a serious lack of understanding of how the state government works, and we don’t want to pay into a bloated, ineffective organization,” said Zwald, who keeps a 10-page memo listing the reasons why UC Davis should remain unassociated with UCSA pinned to his office bulletin board.

Among his reasons are UCSA’s expenditures toward its internal staff, which Zwald considers excessive. Zwald also said the appropriation of UCSA funds dedicated to actual lobbying effort is inadequate.

UCSA Board Chair Andres Gonzales said UCSA provides students with a common association that grants exclusive access to the UC Board of Regents and state legislators.

“We’re part of the conversation over budget cuts – in Sacramento and on campus,” Gonzales said. “We’ve been able to be at the meetings where these issues are decided.”

UCSA employs one full-time lobbyist in Sacramento. Lobby Corps trains several student volunteers per quarter.

Zwald also believes that the current budget allocations to Lobby Corps and University Affairs is more cost effective than paying dues to UCSA for that association’s lobbying efforts. He said that ASUCD would surely have to eliminate Lobby Corps and University Affairs to afford membership in UCSA.

ASUCD would have to pay $41,800 if all undergraduate, graduate and professional students wanted to be members of UCSA. Lobby Corps’ will operate this year with a budget of $28,577 and University Affairs with a budget of $6,522.

Of UCSA’s $533,236.36 in expenses, $14,114 is allocated toward the Sacramento lobbying office. This amount does not include the salary of its lobbyist.

However, staunch opposition to UCSA may subside with a new ASUCD executive team taking over at the end of this quarter. Thongsavat said he is critical of Lobby Corps’ reluctance to support non-consensus and partisan issues, and that UCSA may better represent all UC students, instead of just individual campuses.

“Lobby Corps won’t ask for money,” Thongsavat said. “They will only support bills that are non-controversial. The playing field is much more uncertain and we need to look at new steps to solve this issue. At some point we have to ask for money.”

In response, Lobby Corps cChair Aaron Giampietro said that it is unrealistic to ask legislature for additional revenue in a financial crisis, and that the unit’s time and resources are better spent protecting the UC budget from further cuts.

As far as partisan issues, such as Gov. Jerry Brown’s planned special election to extend tax increases, Giampietro said Lobby Corps won’t rule out a piece of legislation just because it is controversial.

However, the tax issue is one that Lobby Corps struggles to define itself through, Giampietro said.

“If the tax extension doesn’t go through, then the university will be affected,” he said. “So students would definitely be affected for the four years they attend a UC or CSU. But they, and their parents, will also be affected by the tax increases. So it’s definitely a good mental exercise for us to figure out where we’ll stand.”

Similarly, members of UCSA doubt they will support a tax increase at this point, as they are still unsure of where exactly the tax dollars will go, and if they will go toward higher education. In addition, they too are in favor of supporting an issue that they are sure will be successful in the legislature and on voting day.

“It would be less likely for us to support another tax increase, but if we see a capacity to win, then we will,” said Gonzales, adding that UCSA will likely have a clearer stance after this weekend’s meeting.

JUSTIN HO contributed to reporting for this article. LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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