A deep dive into USG finances

Undergraduate students pay a $64 student programming fee every semester to fund the Undergraduate Student Government’s budget, which stands at over $2.5 million for fiscal year 2023. At Tuesday’s Senate meeting, Alex Rohleder, the student-at-large member of USG’s Programming Fee Control Board, recommended a 7% increase to the student programming fee in 2024, amounting to an additional $4.48.

The PFCB is responsible for assisting the student body president in determining the cost of the student programming fee. The control board will look at a variety of factors including the current budget allocations, forecasted University admission and retention rates, forecasted University tuition, inflation and comparisons to other universities. 

Rohleder said that USC raises tuition approximately 5% annually, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1 in October 2021 has the same buying power as $1.08 in October 2022, meaning the current inflation rate is around 8% and as such, USG will need their budget to increase similarly to the rising costs.

“To talk a little about the historical programming fee changes … in comparison to Stanford University, theirs functions similarly to ours,” Rohleder said. “$64 is what we charge each student and they charge $537, which is quite a difference, but just goes to show that there is quite a bit of room to increase our programming fee and still have it be quite modest in comparison to the other schools.”

The largest section  of budget allocations — $1,418,900 in 2023 — is distributed to the programming department. Each member committee and assembly therein presents an annual budget proposal to the budget allocation committee, who decides how much to allocate depending on how much USG can afford. At least three budget hearings are held each April, wherein account holders from each committee or assembly will present. 

“It would be cool if you could give everyone however much they wanted,” said chief financial officer Brian Stowe. “But we have a fixed sum of money so we have to make a judgment on how to allocate it.” 

Programming funds are split among twenty different assemblies and committees. The largest amount in FY 2023 is allocated to the Concerts committee at $574,300, in comparison to the Trojans Pride Committee which received $23,000. The funds that assemblies are given also vary; the Service Student Assembly got the least at $10,000 and the Asian Pacific American Student Assembly received the most at $91,300.

When new committees and organizations are undergoing a trial period to become incorporated, they are given $5,000. This semester, the Middle Eastern and North African Student Association and the Joint Assembly of Military-Associated Students completed their trial period and have since been successfully incorporated as assemblies. They will present with other organizations in April for additional funding. 

The funding department, which Stowe oversees, holds an additional $349,000, broken up into a general and travel fund. This money is available to any student or Registered Student Organization that wants funding for an event for their organization or travel to an academic conference.

Students and RSOs must submit applications for funding at least five weeks prior to when the payment is needed and applications are approved on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once submitted, the funding team will assign the application to one of four funds: The Performing and Visual Arts Fund, the Philanthropy Fund, the Professional Fund and the Social, Recreation and Startup Fund each overseen by respective funding directors. 

Each organization can receive a maximum of $14,000 for each request. Funding proposals that are less than $5,000 only require the approval of the respective funding director, between $5,000 and $10,000 will require approval from the funding director and the chief financial officer, and between $10,000 and $14,000 will require the approval of all funding directors and the chief financial officer. 

At Tuesday’s Senate meeting, Stowe announced that they have processed 177 applications for funding and have used 98% of the allocated funds for the Social, Recreation and Startup Fund, 59% of the Performing and Visual Arts Fund, 66% of the Philanthropy Fund and 38% of the Professional Fund. 

The second largest part of the budget is the mandatory allocation of $409,800 toward students’ stipends and staff salaries. Per USG bylaws, students who receive stipends are paid in monthly installments and their salaries are decided by the Allocations committee each year. 

All salaries range from $1,000 to $9,000, with the highest-paying positions being the president and vice president and the lowest-paying positions being the assistant directors in the programming department, advocacy liaisons and elections commissioners. 

During the election period, each USG candidate is given a budget to spend as a part of their campaign; this expenditure totals to $13,850 allocated to elections. When a candidate submits their intent to run, they must also attach a preliminary campaign finance plan which will be published once approved by the elections commission. 

The ticket for the president and vice president campaign is given a combined $800, whereas each senatorial candidate is given $300 and a joint senatorial campaign is given a combined $400. 

“I think if they’re doing all of that with the $64 I think it’s a pretty efficient use of the money,” said Anh Nguyen, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “If you’re able to get the people you need for the welcome-back concert and planning [other] events, and everything’s comfortable, I don’t see why $64 is unreasonable compared to the tuition and everything.”