Op-Ed: Nonprofits Should Not be Held Hostage in Budget Dispute

Linda M. Czipo, Maria Vizcarrondo | September 27, 2019 | Opinion
Governor’s executive order affects more than $13 million in funding for much-needed programs — prisoner re-entry, AIDS services, educational initiatives and more

Three years ago, Gov. Chris Christie set a new and disturbing precedent by signing an executive order freezing millions of dollars in budgeted, approved funds, much of it allocated to nonprofits providing essential services in the state. This action was taken as a result of a conflict with the Legislature regarding public employee health insurance.

At the time, the Center for Non-Profits, the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, and others expressed alarm at the prospect of nonprofits and the people who need them being held hostage in a debate over which they had no involvement and no control. Now, nonprofits are facing a comparable situation as a result of an executive order enacted by Gov. Murphy in July, which places $235 million of appropriated funds to 64 government and private entities in reserve due to a dispute with the Legislature regarding budget projections.

By our review, more than $13 million on the reserve list is directly allocated to 13 nonprofit organizations for programs such as prisoner re-entry, human services for adolescents, AIDS services, educational programs and more. Many millions more are allocated to health and educational initiatives by public universities and hospitals, many of which are conducted in partnership with nonprofits. These funds are critical, and allow these groups to provide much-needed services to New Jersey residents.

It is imperative that these line items be released promptly, because on its face, this executive order seems alarmingly similar to the actions taken in 2016 that caused significant damage to the affected organizations. While we can certainly appreciate the need for fiscal prudence, financial uncertainty is the enemy of any business — particularly community organizations that lack storehouses of reserves to weather this kind of crisis. Amid such uncertainty, program planning, administering services and budgeting are difficult, if not impossible.

The programs and services provided by these organizations are too important to be used as a bargaining chip. We appeal to the governor to release the funds without further delay.