The AMS’s 2010-11 budget is coming up for approval tonight, and it’s something councilors should be looking at very closely, as there are some concerning things in there.

First of all, the format used makes it difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on sometimes. There are no actual totals from last year included, and lines that have been eliminated from the budget (Block Party, Equity and Diversity, Safety Coordinator, Policy Analyst) do not appear in the document to let you know that they did in fact exist in last year’s budget.

Going into the content, it’s important to know that this budgeting process has been ongoing for a while now. Back in March, council overwhelmingly supported the principle of eliminating the structural deficit. And this budget has met that goal: nothing is coming out of unreplenished funds (savings, essentially) to make it balance.

However, how they ended up there is not exactly how they said they’d do it in March. At the time, they played the doomsday card in order to undertake the cutting/restructuring of some AMS Services, Equity, and Safety. And it wasn’t just the services that would be cut; other parts of the AMS would suffer too. The preliminary budget presented in March summarized the major cuts as follows:

Change in Prelim Budget Description Change in Actual Budget
– 22,000 Contribution to UBC Ombuds Office – 22,000
– 15,000 Safety Office – 15,000
– 12,000 Equity and Diversity – 11,300
– 6,000 AMS Ombuds Office – $5,500
– 42,000 Exec Offices + 28,000
– 11,000 SAC – 11,000
+ 24,000 Committee Chairs + 26,000
– 7,000 FirstWeek – 15,000
– 7,000 Welcome Back BBQ – 9,000
– 7,000 Block Party – 38,000 (eliminated)

For the most part, they stuck to the targets, with two glaring exceptions. At the time, they still planned to hold Block Party, albeit with a reduced budget. Instead, they unceremoniously dumped the entire event.

And then there’s that line that goes from a fairly large red number on the left to a fairly large green number on the right: Exec Offices. Rather than trimming their budgets by $42,000 as promised, it actually increased by $28,000.

While the rest of the budgets are being cut, the execs have made a $70,000 cash grab. What makes the whole thing more offensive is where it’s going. Here are the highlights of new/increased funding in the “Exec Offices” budgets:

*$7,200 for additional exec health plans, above and beyond the AMS’s own student health plan ($1,200 per exec)

*$4,600 for cell phone plans

*$1,250 increase to furniture budgets

*$9,500 increase to “Conferences & Official Business”

*$5,500 increase to “Partnership Building”

*$22,500 in new funds for “Provincial Lobbying” – supposedly membership dues for an as-yet-non-existent pan-BC lobbying group.

*$9,000 for Lobby Days

*$11,000 increase to executive committee “Special Projects”

*$12,000 increase to other executive “Special Projects”

*$14,000 for “Discretionary Allocation” by budget committee

The items above total to just under $92,000 of new/increased spending in the exec portfolios, and for what? Most are either exec perks, or vaguely-defined slush funds.

The rationalization offered is that this shouldn’t matter because of the overall totals. The preliminary budget allocated $660,000 for Student Government while the current budget allocates $689,000; the increase isn’t massive, is still down from last year’s $751,000, and some movement between preliminary and final budgets are to be expected so everything is fine. But then how did the exec budget end up ballooning so drastically?

What the preliminary budget didn’t hint at was the axing of the Policy Analyst position, which cost ~$70,000. When the Policy Analyst position was eliminated, for which no explanation is obvious, it provided a massive injection of unallocated dollars into the student government portfolio. That’s how the execs managed to find so much unassigned funding to devote to their own uses. There were also a bunch of funds resulting from the elimination of a number of assistants/commissioners (savings ~$45,000).

Why not put some of it back into AMS Services, avoiding cuts? Why not save it by putting it back in the AMS’s funds? Why not put it into holding an end-of-year event? Why even cut the Policy Analyst in the first place? Instead, all of the funding, and more, was allocated to the exec portfolios.

The whole thing is blatant hypocrisy by the executives: a massive cash grab while they are sounding the alarm of a budget crisis and preaching fiscal responsibility on everyone else. AMS Council shouldn’t accept this type of behaviour.


Meeting the budgeted savings for the AMS’s three big events hardly seems like a slam dunk either. Here’s why:

Welcome Back BBQ: The major cut is decreasing band costs from $9,500 to $3,000. However, at the same time there’s 20% increase in profit from food and beverage. Will more people really come out to see a lower-profile act?

FirstWeek: All of the “savings” doesn’t come from spending less, it comes from selling more. The more conservative cost is predicated on the AMS more than doubling their revenue from frosh kits, increasing ticket revenue by 1/3, and doubling sponsorship dollars. This seems pretty risky… the obvious question is ‘what if that extra revenue doesn’t come in?’

Shea (AMS Events dude) apparently proposed a revenue-neutral model for FirstWeek which was rejected as not being realistic. So then what does that say about what the AMS Exec are proposing for the last event…

Block Party: After saying in the preliminary budget that it would be cut by $7k, it was eliminated from the budget completely. When this fact was noticed, and subsequently tweeted and written about, the AMS was caught completely flat-footed. Among wildly conflicting reports from various execs, they denied Block Party was canceled and were aghast that media would interpret its complete omission from the budget as such.

Furthermore, not only is Block Party not canceled, the AMS claims that they are very intent about supporting some last-day-of-classes event, assuming that it’s revenue-neutral. (Although, as mentioned above, they thought a revenue-neutral FirstWeek was unrealistic). Here are the details they’ve figured out so far:

Where will it be held? Not sure yet.

What will it be called? Not sure yet.

Who will be organizing it? Not sure yet.

Who will be paying for it? Not sure yet.

What will it consist of? Not sure yet.

What happens if a revenue-neutral model can’t be developed? Don’t know.

What if a revenue-neutral model is developed but fails, incurring large cost overruns? Don’t know.


Block Party clearly lives on, and how dare you suggest otherwise!


12 Comments so far

  1. Cappellacci on July 14, 2010 12:32 pm

    I think the proper term for “Executive Offices” is “Executive Portfolio” and that using the word offices implies it is to upgrade a physical space and is very misleading.

  2. Neal Yonson on July 14, 2010 12:46 pm

    @Cap, That description is taken directly from the prelim. budget. But yes, it refers to the portfolio, not the physical office space.

    Secondly, a lot of credit has to go to Justin McElroy for his detective work on the budget. Since Insiders is, you know, #secretwingoftheUbyssey.

    Finally, it didn’t get mentioned in the post because it’s not directly part of the budget, but the AMS is looking to raise fees this fall through referendum. They’ll no doubt claim the budget is absolutely stretched as thin as possible and that the AMS is once again in crisis mode. I can’t imagine that rhetoric holding any validity after this budget.

  3. Blake on July 14, 2010 12:50 pm

    Neal, I am surprised at your complete lack of appreciation for the hard work that the AMS executives do. Students can only be best served when their student government executives live in comfort. How can we expect the AMS executives to make positive changes to student life if they’re not happy and healthy? Students don’t need parties and services, they need their representatives to have the best cell phones, furniture, and discretionary budgets money can buy. If anything, this budget does not go far enough. We should be renovating their offices and buying them new wardrobes. If my student government executives had better benefits and salaries when I was a student, I can confidently say that I would have had a much better experience at UBC.

  4. Justin on July 14, 2010 12:55 pm

    If Neal really wanted to show his thanks he could link to my fancy charts…

  5. Jeremy McElroy on July 14, 2010 1:05 pm

    Committee Chairs were not budgeted for last year – they came about near the end of the fiscal year, so the new spending in based on last year’s Council.

    The increase in the Exec Offices (its more accurate to say portfolios) is due mainly to the creation of a provincial lobby group (which would require financial viability) and the movement of CASA fees from the Student Council account to the VP External account. This caused a $45,000 increase to the Exec Offices from the preliminary budget because the decision to do this was made after some accounting reform.

    Lobby Days was budgeted because of precedent more than intent. The UERC hasn’t decided whether or not it will hold Lobby Days, and not wanting to make the same mistake that Tim Chu made, I budgeted for it anyway, so I wouldn’t have to look dumb and come before Council months later.

    Just thought I’d elaborate on a few unclear points.

  6. Neal Yonson on July 14, 2010 1:15 pm

    The calculations I did to reach +28,000 for the execs excluded CASA expenses, SAC, and the FOI budget. You’ll notice those are not contained in the list of new exec expenses either.

  7. Ricardo on July 14, 2010 4:30 pm

    I agree with Blake. I feel my student fees would be best spent by placing the exec into leather bondage gear and parading them around campus. New clothes for the execs!

  8. Niels on July 15, 2010 10:03 am

    I agree Ricardo. I read the budget as no event at the end of the year and in exchange we have a new ‘casting’ couch in the office and a bunch of slush funds. Boo.

  9. Neal Yonson on July 15, 2010 11:26 am

    Since this post, and my speaking in council probably contributed to the original failing of this budget, I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing without suggestions. Here’s what I came up with last night:

    Exec Committee

    – Exec Retreat back down to $1000, or less. (Savings: $1000 or more)
    – Raise Exec Comm “Conferences & Official Business” to $10,000-$12,000 and eliminate all of the “Conferences & Official Business” lines in individual exec budgets. The execs can decide amongst themselves which execs can go to what conferences while staying within the overall pool. (Savings: $6,500-$8,500)
    – Exec Special Projects back down to $10,000 (Savings: $11,000)


    – Elilminate/Reduce CPG Special Projects (Savings: $500-$1000)

    VP Academic

    – $1,000 each for Research & Community Projects, Disabilities Students Projects, International Students Projects (Savings: $6,700)

    VP External

    – Cut Lobby Days. If the provincial lobbying group gets off the ground, they should have that covered. If it doesn’t get off the ground, then take a chunk of the $22,500 devoted to that to hold Lobby Days. (Savings: $9,000)


    – I actually think BudCom’s discretionary allocation is a good idea. But set it at $10k, and don’t add to it. (Savings: $4,000)

    Those are the ones I identified while looking at the budget during council. Another look might reveal more. Overall, there’s about $40,000 of cuts in here which I don’t feel would have any severe negative impact on the AMS execs’ ability to realize their vision, or operate the society, and could be re-allocated to other areas of the AMS or heck, put in savings.

    The budget isn’t as stretched as people would have you believe and execs should stop acting like expenses that didn’t exist before this year are suddenly absolutely necessary and untouchable.

  10. Alex Lougheed on July 16, 2010 8:05 am

    A Budget Committee allocating a certain amount of money to itself for future allocation. It’s budgetary procrastination.

    Axe is. If you need extra money, use the contingency. That’s why it’s there.

  11. Dan Pagan on July 16, 2010 1:04 pm

    Has the AMS considered using zero-based budgeting?

  12. Jeremy McElroy on July 16, 2010 3:16 pm

    Neal, the idea is to axe Lobby Days if the group goes forward, but keeping with the tradition of good budgeting, I’m including it.

    Plus the money is from the External Lobbying Fund, and can’t be used for anything else, so it wouldn’t help us balancing/giving more money to other areas.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind

Spam prevention powered by Akismet