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Non-Profits Ask Legislature to Restore Cuts
By Karen Louise Boothe
March 19, 1999
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See the collection of storieson the 1999 budget compiled by the MPR Newsroom.

Hundreds of non-profit leaders spent most of the day at the Capitol asking lawmakers to restore more than $60 million in cuts proposed by Governor Jesse Ventura.

THE PROPOSED CUTS AFFECT 325 non-profit organizations in the state. Services range from job training and placement, to English as a second language for immigrants, to child care and the arts.

Lar Mundstock is Executive Director of the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota. She says, under the proposed cuts, her entire youth violence program will lose all of its funding. She says the implications are far-reaching.

Mundstock: The concern I have is that you can say an agency comes here to get funding to protect itself, but it's not for us, it's for the community and for the people. The bottom line is the safety of the society.
Marcia Avner is Public Policy Director for the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits. She says the proposed cuts come at a time when the state is basking in the affluence of a budget surplus. She says the governor's proposal is shocking and perplexing.
Avner: And the very programs that have been cut are predominantly self-sufficiency programs which get people off of welfare and into school and jobs that pay and he's talked about leveraging and the state dollars that support these programs, in every instance, leverage other resources. So the goals of this administration of self-sufficiency and leveraging are, in fact, met by the very programs targeted for cuts.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Michael O'Keefe was asked about, what seemed to many of the non-profits like, a "mixed message".
O'Keefe: That's a good question, I don't have an answer. I could duck and dodge but no, I don't have an answer.
Ventura's Government Relations Director Wendy Wustenberg assured leaders of community-based organizations that the governor's office is open-minded and willing to learn more about the potential effects the cuts will have. But, she reminded the room of professionals, they need to be nice if they want time with the staff.
Westunberg: It will end the minute security is nervous. They get hives - and the doors are locked.
Wustenberg also said, non-profit scrutiny of the $60 million in cutbacks is reasonable.
Wustenberg: There is no stupid question. The governor says that over and over again. And that frees us to ask stupid questions ourselves and for you to ask them. Like, why are we doing this? Or gee, you know, fine - you took this action on the budget but did you think about the policy implication that these pass-through grants have no home?

She says the administration simply didn't have enough time to gather public input before the budget was due.

Commissioner O'Keefe encouraged the non-profits to focus on the future. He asked for their support of the proposed Minnesota Families Foundation, saying the $30 million that would be made available by the foundation would be in the form of grants to non-profits. But as many in the room pointed out, the foundation's budget is half of the proposed $60 million in cuts and at least two years away. Many said if the cuts become law, doors to their programs could be locked up as early as June of this year.

The Council of Non-Profits' Marcia Avner left the meeting shaking her head, saying on one hand, the administration showed interest in dialogue.
Avner: But I don't think any of the people here felt reassured about the potential for restoring the funds for these programs. There were many questions raised about what to do with programs that will in fact end in three months without funding and without really any time frame to prepare for changes in funding; and there are no answers to any of those questions. The cuts are not a done deal yet by any means. Legislators will debate this funding until the very end of the session. In the meantime they can expect to be lobbied by the non-profit sector to restore them.

Karen Louise Boothe covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach her at