Student Senate

Tax Cut and Jobs Act effects addressed

In the Senate meeting that took place on Monday, November 20, the graduate senators presented an update on their council’s affairs, Grand Marshal Justin Etzine ’18 presented the proposed Student Senate budget for Fiscal Year 2019, and members discussed and voted to approve the budget with one minor amendment.

The update on graduate student affairs was presented by Graduate Senator Anthony Ashley. It was largely Ph.D.-oriented, as that’s what makes up the majority of the graduate students at Rensselaer. He started with some background on what it means to be a graduate student. They are typically here for five to seven years, take anywhere from two to 15 classes, and end with a 100–200 page thesis. Their tuition is approximately $51,000 per year, which is typically waived, and they are granted a stipend of $21,500.

Ashley then went on to talk about how their taxes work and the bill that is currently going through the United States Senate—H.R.1, known as the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. He mentioned that this bill presents a serious issue for graduate students, because they currently have a relatively low tax obligation. This is necessary because their income—the stipend they receive—just barely covers the cost of living. If the new bill passes, tuition waivers will be considered income, which will place them in the 25 percent bracket.

Next, Ashley discussed the role of the graduate council, saying that it is to communicate with the administration, participate in health insurance discussions, help with studentadvisor relationships, and put together both professional and social events. He said that the relationship between graduate students and the administration is crucial because they require them to annually sign off on an increase to their stipend, which is necessary to cover the increase in the cost of living. He explained that that is why the graduate senators appear to disagree with the Student Senate—they feel that it would not be in the best interests of graduate students for them to take a side on the recent contentious issues.

The next item on the agenda was a review of the Fiscal Year 2019 Student Senate budget proposal, presented by Etzine. He said that this was the first time the Senate had ever presented its budget to itself and that, while their approval was not necessary, if they didn’t give it, he would withdraw the proposal in order to make the changes deemed necessary.

He said that the major changes to the budget were to reevaluate and modify goals in order to reflect current practices and priorities. The money for a couple of line items that hadn’t really been used in the past was shifted to more helpful initiatives and projects. The five goals of the budget are: “The Student Senate shall be the chief legislative and policy-making branch of the Union,” “The Student Senate shall serve as the collective voice of the student body,” “The Student Senate shall pursue and support projects for the benefit of, and shall advocate on behalf of, the student body,” “The Student Senate shall develop and oversee the regulations governing all student government elections,” and “The grand marshal shall be regarded as the leader and the chief spokesperson for the entire Union.”

After Etzine’s presentation, there were two major points of discussion regarding the presentation and the approval of the budget. One was that several senators disagree with the budgeting of Union funds for the Senate polos, saying they feel it to be a misuse of the funds. Those in favor of budgeting for the polos, however, said that they feel that it is important for the Senate to be able to look professional and that not everyone may be able to afford them on their own. Several alternate ideas were bounced around, including not buying a full new set each year, and only replacing them as necessary, but the topic was eventually dropped.

Another point that was brought up was the number of mall shuttles in the budget. The number originally remained the same as approved the previous year, despite how much they are used. After some discussion, and Facilities and Services Chairperson Nancy Bush ’19 suggested that 12 or 13 would be a better number. A motion to amend the budget to include three more shuttles passed 18-0-1.

The motion to approve the budget passed 19-0-0.