Arizona university students, including thousands in Tucson, will have a clear choice about whether they're willing to pay for a second layer of student government.

The Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state's public universities, voted Thursday to change its long-standing fee-collecting arrangement with the Arizona Students' Association, which bills itself as a nonpartisan advocacy group for students statewide.

For years, regents allowed a $2-per-semester surcharge to be tacked onto the tuition bills of every university student to provide funding - about $600,000 last year - for the statewide group, which is based in Phoenix.

That's on top of what students pay to help fund student government groups at the campus level.

The University of Arizona, for example, plans to spend $1.7 million this year for local student government operations, funded in large part by student tuition.

Previously, students could opt out of the statewide fee by paying it and applying for a refund. Now, they won't be charged without their consent.

The change could make things "pretty difficult" for the Arizona Students' Association, said its treasurer, Brianna Pantilione, an Arizona State University student.

Instead of getting money automatically, the group now will have to market itself to convince students it's worthy of support, she said in an interview.

The change comes on the heels of complaints that the group used student money to push Democratic causes such as last year's Proposition 204 campaign, which would have made permanent a 1-cent increase in state sales tax, mainly to help fund education.

Student leaders at ASU in Tempe - by far the state's largest school - resigned from the statewide group and asked regents to stop collecting the surcharge that funds it.

"This is clearly in retaliation for our Prop. 204 efforts," Pantilione said of the latest regents vote.

She said the group donated more than $120,000 to support the ballot initiative in an effort to help students, not for political reasons. The measure was defeated in the November election.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at or at 573-4138.