The state Board of Regents on Monday suspended the ability of the Arizona Students' Association to impose its $2-a-semester fee amid questions of how the money is being spent.
The 7-2 vote move comes amid questions by some regents ad students about how the association's operation. Regents' spokeswoman Katie Paquet said the board is evaluating whether it is appropriate to have the fee collected as part of tuition given that the regents has no control over the association.
That includes how the fees -- about $300,000 a semester -- are spent.
The issue gained steam, however, in the wake of disclosure that the association had contributed $120,000 of what it collected from students to support Proposition 204.
That measure, which failed in November, would have created a permanent one-cent sales tax surcharge, effective when the temporary levy expires at the end of May. While most of the cash would have gone to K-12 education, some of the proceeds were earmarked for university funding.
"That brought the matter into clear relief for everybody,'' explained regent Jay Heiler. "There's been a tremendous amount of discussion since then.''
Danielle Bryant, secretary of the Arizona Students' Association, said she believes the regents' action is a direct response to her group favoring a ballot measure that was opposed by Gov. Jan Brewer and most Republican legislators.
"It definitely does look like a political move,'' she said.
Monday's regents' action does not permanently bar future fee collections. The board is set to review its policies that allow the fee to be tacked on to tuition at its February meeting.
But that comes too late for the spring semester. And it remains to be seen whether the fee ever returns.
The association exists as its own nonprofit corporation. But it is regents' policy that allows the $2 to be tacked on to each student's tuition each semester.
While the fee is collected as part of tuition, it technically is not mandatory. As required by regents' policy, any student wanting the money back has to submit a written request to the association by the 21st day of classes each semester.
The fee came into high relief earlier this year when Shawnna Bolick, a foe of Prop 204, filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's Office alleging the Quality Jobs and Education Committee had illegally received $120,000 from the association.
She contended some board members and officers may have violated the organization's bylaws in approving the funds, contending those who wanted to support the initiative purposely engineered a vote by phone in a way to keep objecting board members from participating.
Bennett, however, tossed the complaint, saying there was no violation of state election laws. And spokesman Matt Roberts said if Bolick questions how the donation was authorized, her fight is with the Arizona Students' Association.
Jordan King, the board's vice chairman, said at the time that the donation was appropriate. "It directly benefits student issues,'' he said.
Heiler said even if the regents agree to let the fee be tacked on to tuition for the fall semester, the amount may not be the same.
The $2 amount was approved in a 2008 referendum among students. But Heiler said that vote does not bind the regents to that amount, or even to allowing the fee to be added to the tuition bill.
"The regents may come to a decision that the amount is too great,'' he said. "As the number of students has grown so high now, that's a very significant amount of funding.''
Monday's action also could result in litigation over whether the regents complied with the state's Open Meetings Law.
The agenda listed the student fee as a discussion item only. And there was nothing on the agenda about a vote to suspend the ability of the association to collect the fees for the spring semester.
Paquet said what occurred was a "temporary rule change'' she said the regents are authorized to approve.
Dan Sullivan, spokesman for the students' association, said late Monday that association board members were "looking at all options.''
Bryant, a sophomore at Northern Arizona University, said the funds that would have been collected this coming semester generally are used for lobbying expenses, as that is when the Legislature goes into session -- and lawmakers propose measures that affect students.
Last session, for example, Bryant said the association successfully fought HB 2675 which would have required full-time students to personally contribute a minimum of $2,000 towards their tuition. And Bryant said there always are budget and funding issues.
But the suspension may have no immediate impact: Sullivan said it has $350,000 in the bank.
That fact, though, may have helped contribute to the regents deciding that the association won't be harmed by not collecting any fees this semester.