By Mary Clarkin
January 13, 2016

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget recommendations for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 blames a “challenging revenue situation” on:

  • lagging aviation and oil and gas sectors, and
  • low farm commodity prices.

The budget package released Wednesday morning outlined money transfers to help the state general fund. The three largest fund transfers are:

  • $50.6 million from the Children’s Initiative Fund
  • $25 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation
  • $25 million from the privatization of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, pending legislative approval.

K-12 funding

The continuation of block grants for K-12 public schools will keep districts at comparable funding levels for 2016-17.

“It’s pretty neutral,” said Hutchinson USD 308 Superintendent Shelly Kiblinger, reflecting on the budget’s impact on the local district.

She noted, though, that the state is using schools to help shore up its coffers.

In the shift to block grants, the Legislature created an extraordinary needs fund to help school districts that particularly suffered financially in the transition. The state subtracted four-tenths of 1 percent from state aid to each school district to create the extraordinary needs fund. Some school districts applied for a slice of the funds. Generally, they received less than they requested or were denied.

About $9.4 million was distributed, but $2.9 million remains. The governor’s budget recognizes the $2.9 million as “savings” and it won’t be distributed.

“Which is concerning to me because that does mean that they have used education money to essentially help fund the budget shortfall,” Kiblinger said.

“It still stays in their coffers. It is what it is,” said Perry McCabe, business manager for Buhler USD 313, which received some extraordinary funds but not as much as it sought.

The proposed state budget for the fiscal year starting in July would have $17.5 million for the extraordinary needs fund.

Community college

“Generally speaking, the governor’s budget adjustments hold the community college funding at the current levels for the remainder of 2016 and for 2017,” said Hutchinson Community College President Carter File in a written response.

In next year’s budget, there is an additional transfer of money from the Board of Regents to the state general fund of $900,000 for unused performance-based incentives, File noted. It could affect adult education programs, but Brownback’s office has determined that at the rate the funds are being used, this money can be transferred without impacting these programs, File said.

The state will continue to finance tuition payments to community colleges when high school students take certain career and technical classes. Funding for the statewide program will hold steady for both 2016 and 2017 at $20.75 million.

This is “very positive” for Hutchinson Community College and high school partnerships, File said.

Local institutions

The Hutchinson Correctional Facility’s proposed base budget for the fiscal year starting in July 2016 would be slightly above the budget for the current fiscal year but would be down from actual expenditures in 2014-15. Authorized positions would hold steady at a total of 507.

The Kansas State Fair Board had revised its overall expenditure request, seeking the authority for $8.9 million in fiscal year 2017. Brownback’s budget would allow state fair expenditures of up to $6.8 million. That would be up from the $6.4 million authorized spending level set by the Legislature.

Additional funding for capital improvements and utilities and marketing were not recommended in the proposed budget.

The calendar presents a special challenge for the state fair. The fiscal year starts in July and the fair is held in September. The increased spending limit was sought mainly for the flexibility of processing expenditures, according to state fair board member Brad Rayl.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Rayl said.

Rayl noted the state has not furnished pledged matching funds for years, and it owes more than $1 million to the state fair at this point.

Renewing license tags

Brownback is recommending the Department of Revenue save $562,000 – to be transferred to the general fund – by sending postcards in lieu of a vehicle registration renewal notice in an envelope.

However, the postcard would not contain all the information currently listed on the renewal notice letter. Vehicle owners would have to go to a website or contact their county tag office for the information.

“We heard the same thing last year,” said Melissa Wangemann, with the Kansas Association of Counties, but the idea wasn’t implemented.

The website isn’t reliable, said Reno County Treasurer Jan Hull. She predicted the outcome would be a “lot more people calling” the tag office.

“Budget-wise, it makes sense,” Hull said, but there are “too many what-ifs,” she added.

Children

“This isn’t just a short-sighted budget recommendation,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, of Brownback’s plans for children’s programs. “This will dismantle one of Kansas’ most innovative, forward-thinking legacies,” Cotsoradis said in a press release Wednesday.

Brownback’s proposal includes the transfer of the Children’s Initiative Fund and:

•Redesign the Parents as Teachers program to institute an income limit. Those participants that fall below the limit would be funded by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund with no charges for services. Those families above the limit would pay for the services.

•Administrative responsibility would shift from the Kansas Department for Children and Families to the Kansas State Department of Education.

The Kansas State Department of Education issued a release Wednesday praising the decision to consolidate all early childhood programs under that department.

“The state of Kansas is doing great work with early childhood education,” said Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson. “Early childhood preparation is critical to the future success of Kansas students, and this consolidation means Kansas parents can expect a seamless system of supports for children from birth through high school and beyond,” he said in the press release.

Cotsoradis said the budget calls for the total elimination of the Kansas Endowment for Youth (KEY) Fund, and the plan will require a change in state statute.

Children’s Initiative Fund money is not to be used to replace or substitute money appropriated from the state general fund, she noted.

KDOT

The pattern of using the State Highway Fund to cover a cash-short state general fund and to help other departments will persist.

Last year, the Legislature approved the transfer of more than $377 million from the State Highway Fund for the general fund. Another $8 million was announced in the summer. In the fall, another $50 million transfer was announced.

According to the budget, the money transferred from KDOT will top $435 million in the current fiscal year, and Brownback is recommending a transfer of more than $400 million during the fiscal year starting in July.

“The additional transfers from KDOT wil not affect any T-WORKS projects,” Brownback’s budget stated.

Read more from The Hutchinson News.