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Delaware nonprofits escape budget cuts

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Employees of nonprofits that receive state government funds breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when lawmakers voted to spare them from budget cuts.

“We couldn’t believe it,” said Jim Purcell, president of Communities in Schools of Delaware, after watching the Joint Finance Committee vote. “I think they really looked at the nonprofit community and the impact that we’re having and the fact that there’s more and more people in our state that need those services.”

The committee passed a bill to spend $45.8 million in “grants in aid” to nonprofits, $800,000 more than last year. Money goes to everything from volunteer fire companies to the Boys & Girls Club to drug treatment organizations.

The full House and Senate still have to approve the spending before it becomes official.

Sheila Bravo, president and chief executive officer of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, praised the committee’s vote.

“We received a lot of feedback from nonprofit leaders who were going to make some difficult decisions if they were going to be cut,” Bravo said. “We’re just so appreciative of their consideration. I know its been a difficult budget cycle, and the fact that they were able to support the important services these groups provide is fabulous.”

The increased funding came as a surprise to many because lawmakers have spent much of the last month or so axing proposals for new spending in response to months of decreasing projections for how much the state will take in next year from taxes and other revenues.

By the time they finished writing the state operating budget at the start of the month, finance committee members had left only $41.6 million for grants in aid and cash for the “bond bill,” which pays for capital projects like renovations and infrastructure.

Finance committee chair Sen. McDowell, D-Wilmington North, said he personally thought the nonprofit aid was more important.

“Sometimes, if you had to cut out some of the things we put in the bond bill, as opposed to some of the very needed service programs like drug treatment programs, we’d rather the latter than the former,” he said. “I think we’ve been able to do a very good job this year of finding enough money to get everything done.”

It was not immediately clear exactly how much is left for capital budgets.

At a minimum, there is just shy of $3.5 million, but lawmakers could choose to tap other accounts in state government to get more money. McDowell said there could be as much as $22 million available.

The committee that sets capital spending meets Wednesday morning.

“We worked with our co-chairs on the bond bill committee to get them as much as we could while still trying maintain the support we need for these organizations,” said Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, who is co-chair of the finance committee.

Some money is still in flux. Most notably, there is $6 million in the operating budget for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commissions’ redistricting plan, which still faces a tough vote in the Senate.

If legislators don’t approve WEIC, the extra $6 million would go to the capital budget.

All of these questions will be answered by the wee hours of the morning on Friday. Lawmakers typically work well through the night on June 30, the session’s last day.