Nonprofits Nervous About New State Legislators and Governors

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November 19, 2010; Source: Philadelphia Business Journal | The big gains for Republicans this election year were more than the 60 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 6 seats in the U.S. Senate. The 2010 elections also saw the Republican Party gain some 680 seats in state legislatures, picking up at least 19 legislative chambers.

Republicans controlled both legislative chambers in 14 states before the election, but 25 states after November 2 (Nebraska’s unicameral legislative body is ostensibly nonpartisan). Republicans were elected governors in eleven new states, bringing the Republican gubernatorial total to 29. While the nation ponders what the new Tea Party-ish members of the U.S. Congress will mean for President Obama’s legislative agenda, nonprofits are concerned about what will happen in state legislatures and governors’ mansions soon to be dominated by new occupants pledged to cut the size of government.

In Pennsylvania, nonprofits are concerned about how the new Republican policy-makers will cut the state budget and impact nonprofit programs. JoAnn Weinberger of the Center for Literacy in Philadelphia predicted, “Funding for discretionary programs does not look good.” This is particularly true as stimulus money runs out for states across the country.

There’s cause for trepidation for states across the nation. The Wall Street Journal recently described the budget-cutting plans of some of the new Republican governors-elect. Some don’t seem to have specific plans, such as South Carolina’s Nikki Haley who has turned to a “Fiscal Crisis Task Force” to come up with ideas on what programs might be cut to close her state’s $700 million budget gap. Other new governors appear much more zealous with their plans. The new governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, says he “will question the existence of every state-government agency.”

In Wisconsin, governor-elect Scott Walker declared that he “is open to privatizing all state operations but the prisons.” For the most part, these new Republican governors and legislatures see this as the time to “put up or shut up.” For nonprofits, the challenge is similar—a “put up or shut up” moment for nonprofit advocacy in defense of the critical state government programs that nonprofits deliver as mainstays of the social safety net.—Rick Cohen