By John Celock
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) updated budget proposal includes transferring a state children’s fund to the state’s general fund as part of an overhaul to the state’s children’s programs.
State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan told state lawmakers Wednesday that the proposed budget would include moving $50.6 million from the state Children’s Initiatives Fund to the state general fund, along with transferring the state’s children’s cabinet to the state Department of Education, and putting in new income requirements for the Parents as Teachers program. Opponents of the plan say the move will hurt the children’s fund, while Sullivan said the program will operate in the same way but the funding will come from the general fund.
Sullivan and the budget document say the move will increase transparency for the children’s fund, and that budgeted amounts for the fund will not decrease.
“In order to increase transparency and accountability, revenue to and expenditures from the Children’s Initiative Fund are proposed to move into the State General Fund. FY 2016 and FY 2017 approved program expenditures will remain the same,” the budget document read.
The moves come as Brownback tries to close a multimillion-dollar budget gap in the state. Brownback and his allies have blamed the gap on the regional and national economic climate. Opponents though blame the deficit on the deep tax cuts that Brownback and lawmakers adopted in 2012. During last year’s legislative session, lawmakers plugged the gap with a higher state sales tax and sweeps to various funds in the state.
This is not the first time Brownback has touched the Children’s Initiative Fund. Last November, swept $9 million from the fund to the general fund to close a budget gap. The Children Initiative Fund was created in the 1990s from tobacco settlement funds to provide for early childhood programs in the state.
Children’s advocates are crying foul saying that the proposal will hurt the children’s programs.
“This isn’t just a short-sighted budget recommendation,” Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children said in a statement. “This will dismantle one of Kansas’ most innovative, forward-thinking legacies. Kansas was the first to establish an endowment in an effort to ensure uninterrupted support for children’s funding over time as tobacco settlement dollars declined. If lawmakers approve these recommendations, Kansas’ premier early childhood system will become just another in a long line of casualties of a failed tax experiment.”
The plan also called for moving the state children’s cabinet, which oversees the Children’s Initiative Fund and early childhood programs, from the state Department of Children and Families to the Department of Education. The move takes the programs partially out of Brownback’s control, as the education agency is governed by the independently elected state Board of Education, while DCF is under Brownback’s control. Brownback can make budget proposals for the Education Department. Brownback said the move would allow for the children’s cabinet to be under an agency more aligned with its work.
Brownback’s budget is also proposing instituting an income limit for the state’s Parents as Teachers program. Under the proposed change, those falling over the income limit would be required to pay to participate in the program, while those under the limit would be paid for by TANF funds.
The proposed changes to the Parents as Teachers program was immediately attacked by Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), a moderate Republican, who tweeted that the proposal punishes families who live in her suburban Johnson County district. Clayton also said that income levels “does not automatically mean that a person knows everything about parenting.”
Clayton serves on the House Social Services Budget Committee, which held a series of hearings last year on the Parents as Teachers program.
Brownback’s budget proposal also contains sweeping $25 million out of the state’s transportation trust fund to the general fund. The move, which follows a similar sweep from last year, had been dismissed by opponents as the “bank of KDOT.” Opponents say taking the transportation funds will lead to long-term infrastructure issues in the state.
Sullivan told lawmakers Wednesday that the state’s roads and bridges are in good shape. Citing figures that said that 86 percent of the state’s bridges were in “good shape,” 98 percent of the state’s interstate system was in “good shape” and 89 percent of the state’s non-interstate roads were in “good shape.”
Sullivan also said that the sweeps from the Department of Transportation will not hurt the state’s road construction program, saying that the projects are continuing at the same rate.