Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Fees not meant to fix debt, UH students tell lawmakers

By Chris Mikesell


University of Hawaii students who pay hundreds of dollars a semester in student fees say that money should not be used to help balance the state budget.

A bill introduced by Sen. Malama Solomon (D, Hilo-Honokaa) would take the money in 138 state special funds, including money from University of Hawaii student fees, and add them to the state's general fund.

"They shouldn't take the student fee money because that's something we worked hard for and our parents worked hard for," said UH-Manoa sophomore Thadd Chang, 19.

Chang, like the more than 20,000 other full-time undergraduate UH-Manoa students, pays $216 a semester in student activity fees.

Ryan Averderada, a student senator from Honolulu Community College, said students fear that once the funds are taken, they will never come back.

"The fees that are paid into these special funds, our students expect us to spend either on them or on future students," Averderada told lawmakers in his testimony this week.

"A lot of students just don't quite understand why their money that they're paying to the schools for registration, for tuition, for identification card fees or for whatever fees they have to pay, is going to be taken from the schools and given to the Legislature to use," Averderada said.

Solomon defended her proposal, saying that not only does the state need the funds to balance its budget, but also that it is within its rights to do so.

"I don't think of it as a money grab because I think we have the prerogative as legislators," Solomon said. "The only way the Legislature can call back these funds is to repeal them so they can come back to the Legislature and be reallocated."

Andrew Itsuno, president of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii, said that if the money from student fees were taken, ASUH would no longer be able to fund scholarships, graduate school test preparation programs or student clubs.

"They would be scooping up the reserves — the money that we currently have saved up for specific purposes," Itsuno said.

Sen. David Ige (D, Aiea-Pearl City), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means committee, said students who think the state is stealing their money are not different from other fee-paying constituencies.

"It's the same perception that says the state is stealing from insurance agents or the state is stealing from real estate agents by taking their fees," said Ige. "There are literally hundreds of thousands of funds which assess specific fees for specific purposes."

The Senate Ways and Means Committee has postponed a decision on the bill, and has until March 2 to act if it is to stay alive this session.

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