By John Hanna
January 13, 2016

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback drew strong criticism Wednesday from Democrats and advocates over his proposal to overhaul how some children’s programs are financed.

His proposal to move tobacco settlement funds into the state’s main bank account — where it potentially could be used on general government operations — was among dozens of measures outlined by budget director Shawn Sullivan.

Brownback’s proposals are aimed at eliminating a projected $190 million shortfall in the state’s $16 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Here is a look at some of the key proposals.

CHILDREN’S INITIATIVES

Brownback proposed sweeping nearly $51 million from the Children’s Initiatives Fund into the state general fund, where the projected deficit exists. The children’s fund is supported by revenues from a settlement of lawsuits by states against tobacco companies in the 1990s.

Legislators last year authorized $44 million in spending from the children’s fund during the coming fiscal year, mostly on early childhood education and health programs.

Brownback’s proposal does not strip the affected programs of their funding but replaces with state general fund dollars. The state deposits most of its income, sales and other taxes in the general fund.

But the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children said Brownback is “dismantling” the state’s system for funding early childhood programs. President and CEO Shannon Cotsoradis said the children’s fund represents “an effort to ensure uninterrupted support” for such programs.

Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, said the move will make it easier for Brownback and GOP legislators to eliminate funding for children’s programs in future years.

Sullivan disagreed, saying having children’s programs financed with general fund dollars creates more certainty.

“The tobacco settlement money is scheduled to decrease in future years,” he said.

SPENDING $16 BILLION

Kansas’ state government would spend more than $16 billion in a year for the first time under Brownback’s proposals.

The governor is recommending changes to a spending blueprint for the coming fiscal year approved last year.

Legislators last year authorized $15.85 billion in spending for the next fiscal year. Sullivan said the revisions boost the total past $16 billion largely because they include the spending of extra highway dollars, based on changes in the timing of projects.

EXTRA FEDERAL FUNDS

The federal government is helping Kansas balance its next budget.

Brownback’s proposals assume nearly $26 million in savings in providing health insurance coverage for children.

The federal government last year increased its funding for states for such coverage, allowing Kansas to spend less.

The state Children’s Health Insurance Program provides coverage to about 55,000 kids.

PENSION SAVINGS

Brownback’s budget proposals also capture $24 million in savings from lower-than-anticipated contributions to pensions for public school teachers.

The state’s annual contributions are based on the payrolls of the state’s 286 local school districts. Sullivan said the state expected payrolls to grow 1 percent in the current school year, and they didn’t.

The state previously had expected to spend $354 million during the next fiscal year on teacher pensions. The revised figure is $330 million.

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said payrolls did not grow as quickly as anticipated because school districts have replaced retirees with lower-salaried employees or held vacant positions open.

KANSAS BIOSCIENCE AUTHORITY

Brownback wants the state to sell the assets of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, estimating that the move would raise $25 million.

The state created the bioscience authority in 2005, committing state tax dollars to investing in and nurturing high-tech, bioscience companies. The authority initially enjoyed bipartisan support.

But some Republicans have since come to question whether there’s enough state oversight of the authority and reduced its funding when Kansas faced budget problems.

Funding peaked at $36 million during the state’s 2008 budget year and is only $7 million for fiscal year 2017, beginning in July.

The authority’s board voted last month to rely on private-sector support for its investments, and Brownback’s budget would eliminate the state’s remaining $7 million commitment.

Read more from the Kansas City Star.