By John Montgomery
July 7, 2015

It’s quite literally like taking candy from a baby, what the Legislature has done to keep state finances solvent amidst the devastation wrought by Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax cuts for the wealthy and business owners.

That’s not to mention breaking a promise to the children of Kansas.

That promise dates back to Kansas’ settlement in a multistate lawsuit in the 1990s against tobacco companies. When that lawsuit was settled, Kansas decided to use its proceeds for the purpose of early childhood education and other children’s programs. It was the way the state chose – astutely – to direct the unexpected resources to a valuable purpose that otherwise might have been challenged for resources.

And lawmakers back then didn’t just want to spend the money as it came in. They wanted to create a lasting endowment for children’s programs. So they created the Kansas Endowment for Youth (KEY). The principal would be invested and a set amount available each year for spending on children’s programs.

But almost from the start, the KEY fund became a place where the Legislature could borrow money for other purposes.

Kansas Action for Children reported last week that since 2000 the Legislature has swept almost $200 million from the fund, leaving it with a projected balance at the end of this fiscal year of just $140,000. Moreover, had the money been in the fund to be invested as planned, it would have grown to a projected $365 million by now. Instead, there is virtually no endowment.

It’s a crime.

Kansas Action for Children took care not to be so blunt but instead to appeal to lawmakers’ capitalist sensibilities. Figuring that every dollar invested in Kansas’ children returns between $4 and $9, KAC estimates the state missed out on an investment return of at least $1.5 billion.

“The KEY Fund’s lost return on investment will have a more damaging long-term impact on our economy than reducing the short-term expense of programs for children and families,” said Torree Pederson, president of the Alliance for Childhood Education.

That’s nice, but it’s still theft.

Kansas wanted to take her due for something bad – the health damage done by tobacco products – and produce something good for the next generation of her people.

Instead, it went to balance the books, including, most recently, to cover the shortfalls from tax cuts benefiting the state’s wealthy. Ironically, state lawmakers recently returned to tobacco companies to bolster state finances, by hiking the tax on tobacco products.

Even if the Legislature eventually restores the endowment – highly unlikely – it wouldn’t compensate for the lost earnings over the years it was tapped to pay for state operations.

It’s a crime for which the legislators responsible never will go to jail. And if voters never at least take them out of office, these essentially are crooks who never will be held accountable. Forget about future promises to children. How could they ever be taken seriously?

Read more from The Hutchinson News.