The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 10th

Congress Ends Year of Debt-Paying

Beginning the year with a $5,100 debt and a determination to pay it off meant a lot of penny-pinching and careful scrutiny of student groups' requests for funds.

"Next year, hopefully, we won't have these problems," said Speaker Alexandra Bell. "We basically bit the bullet and said, 'We're going to clean this up now.'"

The debt was a result of overspending by previous Congresses and last year's small amount of reversions -- unused money student groups are required to return to Congress.

As a result, the 82nd Congress only had $22,000 in student fees to hand out to student groups, compared to $39,000 the previous year.

Student Body Treasurer Patrick Frye said reversions will come in May 16 and that Congress will know for sure this summer if it has successfully paid off the debt. But Frye said he was pleased with how Congress handled the budget crunch.

"We imposed on ourself a small amount we could spend and then of all things ended up with some money left over," Frye said. Frye estimated that Congress ended the session with $2,500 to $3,000 in its coffers.

While carefully considering all requests for money, Bell said Congress made it easier for student groups to get those funds by rewriting the entire financial section of the Student Code.

But Bell said some of Congress' most important endeavors reached much further than finances. She said Congress also worked with the Board of Elections to revise the elections laws and make way for online voting.

"I think we worked really well with the executive branch this year while maintaining our independence," Bell said.

Congress members also were generally pleased with their recent censure of the Carolina Athletic Association and pending approval of a bill that will make the organization partly accountable to Congress.

A bill was passed by Congress last Tuesday with a 17-1 vote, but Student Body President Brad Matthews has introduced a revised bill that will be voted on tonight in a special session.

"I think it will make a student organization that we're all a part of run better," Bell said. "It was a bold move, but I think if it goes through, everyone in the student body will be more happy with the CAA."

Members also noted differences between the 82nd and 81st Congresses.

"The 81st was a lot more controversial," Rep. Heather Yandow said. "Congress meetings ran until one or two in the morning. Everything was a lot more contentious."

In comparison, members said the 82nd was much more civil.

"While people disagreed, it was never confrontational," said Matt Fisher, chairman of the Ethics Committee. "It fostered an open forum for debate. Everyone seemed to get along both in and out of the Congress chambers."

Representation also was an issue for Congress. At its last meeting, only 20 of the 37 seats were filled. Fisher said the empty seats hurt students. "The constituents who lost their representation -- they were not served," Fisher said.

But many students do not keep track of Congress' activities.

Sophomore Lisa Gibson, a journalism major from Kitty Hawk, said she has zero interest in Congress and does not know who her representative is. "I really don't know what Student Congress is, and I really don't care," Gibson said.

But Bell said she is impressed by the solid, if small, group of students who sacrificed their Tuesday nights to discuss and vote on legislation, even though their jobs were not as high profile as those in the executive branch.

"The 82nd has been really dedicated to the student body," Bell said. "I know it's not always obvious when we're amending bills, but that makes student government run better for the students."

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