At the Tuesday, Feb. 22 meeting of the Michigan Student Assembly, members had the chance to finally pass a historic resolution calling for the funding of a chapter of the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan at the University. The chapter would act as an advocate for students on pressing issues like the high price of textbooks and off-campus housing. Unfortunately, the assembly was denied the ability to vote on this resolution due to the actions of MSA Chief of Staff Elliott Wells-Reid, who halted the vote and sent it to the Central Student Judiciary for review by arguing that PIRGIM’s alleged lobbying would endanger MSA’s tax-exempt status. There is scant evidence to support this allegation, and the injunction blocking the vote should be dropped as soon as possible.

Angela Cesere

The benefits that would result from the funding of a local PIRG chapter would do much to supplement student voices by providing much-needed advocacy and expertise on student issues. PIRGIM is requesting $20,000 from MSA’s discretionary budget in order to cover the cost of establishing a chapter for a one-year trial run. After one year, the University Board of Regents would decide whether or not to allow the group to seek a permanent source of funding through student fees. During the trial period, PIRGIM plans to tackle off-campus housing — an issue that is among the most critical faced by students and one to which MSA itself has pledged significant efforts but has provided precious little. MSA’s efforts to push for reliable and affordable housing will only be bolstered by the research and advocacy work that a fully funded PIRGIM chapter can provide.

Sadly, these efforts were stalled due to Wells-Reid’s injunction against voting. He claims that MSA would endanger its tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization by providing funding to a 501(c)(4) group that does advocacy work. This claim is baseless, as the Student PIRGIM Pilot Chapter will likewise be a 501(c)(3) organization, and the resolution calling for its creation allocates no money for lobbying — alleviating fears that PIRGIM will act as a partisan 501(c)(4) organization. In addition, the resolution establishing the PIRGIM chapter calls for the creation of an MSA Select Committee that will provide the necessary oversight to ensure that PIRG is using its funding in accordance with its stated guidelines, further discrediting any concerns that MSA will lose its own tax-exempt status by providing funding.

MSA members are willing to vote on this resolution. At the Feb. 22 meeting, Wells-Reid refused to answer questions regarding his timing of the injunction on voting and his push for the Central Student Judiciary to review the legalities of the resolution. There was ample time to raise these concerns before the scheduled day of the vote, and representatives want to know why Wells-Reid called for the injunction when he did. His refusal to communicate with the rest of MSA shows a lack of transparency that should not be tolerated.

Wells-Reid should withdraw the injunction on the PIRGIM vote. PIRGIM is a unique student group tied to a powerful national organization with branches in 35 states that has proven its ability to galvanize student power regarding pressing issues like the high costs of housing and textbooks. Squabbling over groundless legal technicalities will only postpone these efforts and, in the end, prove detrimental to student interests.

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