Nonprofits avoid funding cuts as Delaware Senate approves budget

DOVER — Legislators avoided large-scale cuts for funding to nonprofits Tuesday, instead opting to reduce some funding for the bond bill.

The Joint Finance Committee approved a grant-in-aid bill totaling $45.9 million, with millions going to fire companies, senior-service groups, historic-preservation organizations and more.

The allocation came despite talk of having to cut $1.8 million and means grant-in-aid will actually increase this year.

Gov. Jack Markell in January recommended it be funded at the same level as last year.

Legislators also took a step toward finishing the money bills, with the Senate approving the budget bill. It now goes to the House with two days remaining before the fiscal year and legislative session come to a close.

The bond bill is set to be discussed today by the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement.

The committee does not have much in the way of additional funds to work with. About $3.4 million is currently available, although up to $22 million in total could be freed up depending on what actions legislators take today and Thursday.

Among the groups no longer receiving money from grant-in-aid are the American Diabetes Association, Delaware HIV Consortium and Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, although many of the cuts come from nonprofits that did apply for funding this year. Lawmakers did add some new programs as well.

Rep. Melanie Ceorge Smith

Rep. Melanie George Smith

“We very specifically asked the committee members to look at their applications and find organizations that had concerns,” JFC co-chair Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, said. “For example, there were organizations that had concerns with paying the local taxes to the cities they are in, property taxes, etc. So on some of those we made fairly significant cuts … and we re-allocated that money.”

The grant-in-aid increase comes despite weeks of warning and constant reminders from lawmakers of a tough budget environment. JFC co-chair Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said last week legislators were considering an 8.5 percent cut to nonprofits, with the exceptions of fire companies, veterans’ groups and senior centers.

To the relief of many nonprofit advocates, employees and beneficiaries, that did not materialize Tuesday.

The grant-in-aid proposal includes a restoration of some funding for the state’s medical and dental programs at out-of-state universities. Lawmakers removed it all earlier this month, not realizing they were cutting current spots as well as future ones.

Funding for students who are now studying in the programs will continue.

The $45.9 million in the grant-in-aid bill is broken down into four sections. About $23.2 million will go to government units and senior centers, $16.4 million will be allocated for community agencies, $5.9 million will be provided to fire companies and $300,000 will be earmarked for veterans’ organizations.

Although legislators approved sections quickly and with little debate, committee members did have a separate vote on Planned Parenthood, which is set to receive $30,600 from grant-in-aid.

“I have a problem with that even being in there,” Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel, said.

The vote to remove it failed, with all eight Democrats voting against, three Republicans voting in support and Sen. Catherine Cloutier, R-Arden, abstaining.

The exact amount of cash to the bond bill could vary from $3.4 million to $22 million due to a number of factors. Six million dollars has been set aside for Wilmington school redistricting, but the proposal still has several hurdles remaining, and it appears it may fail. In the event it does not pass, $6 million would be freed up for the bond bill.

The Bond Committee today will also consider taking money from various special accounts, such as the captive insurance fund, throughout the state.

Both the grant-in-aid bills and bond bills require three-fourths approval of both chambers to pass. For way of comparison, the budget bill that passed the Senate Tuesday was backed by 15 members — only 71 percent.


Senate approval of the budget came mostly along party lines, with six of nine Republicans voting against it. Lawmakers are comfortably ahead of last year’s schedule, when the budget was not introduced until June 30.

This year’s operating budget totals $4.08 billion, up from $3.91 billion last year.

Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, who has never voted for the budget in his 22 years in the Senate, gave a zealous speech

Bonini_Colin_AMG_3566 by .

Sen. Colin Bonini

on the floor, arguing lawmakers are simply throwing money at problems instead of making hard decisions.

“We did not cut. We took around $175 million more from taxpayers,” he said.

He claimed the economy “is failing. Period,” a notion disputed by Sen. McDowell, who cited a better-than-average unemployment rate.

An attempt by Sen. Lawson to amend out language relating to funding for the University of Delaware’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy failed in a partisan vote.

The six who voted against the budget, Senate Bill 285, are Sen. Bonini; Sen. Gerald Hocker, of Ocean View; Sen. Gregory Lavelle, of Sharpley; Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, of Georgetown; Sen. Bryant Richardson, of Laurel; and Sen. F. Gary Simpson, of Milford.

The House will vote on the budget today.

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