By Shannon Cotsoradis
November 24, 2015
As you’ve probably read in the news in recent weeks, Kansas’ unsustainable tax policies continue to wreak havoc on the state budget. Since last December, the Brownback administration has implemented three rounds of mid-year budget cuts and sweeps – an action typically only needed during severe economic downturns. Each round of cuts targeted children’s programs, with the latest including a $9 million sweep from the Children’s Initiatives Fund (CIF).
The governor’s budget director claimed the funds were excess and would not impact current grants to children’s programs, but further analysis revealed the sweep will reduce grant awards already promised to 20 Kansas programs by approximately 6.5 percent in fiscal year 2016, and an additional three percent in fiscal year 2017.
Not only did the administration misrepresent the immediate impact of the CIF sweep, it seems they maneuvered circumstances to create the appearance of excess funds. In recent months, Brownback officials requested CIF grantees transition their grant cycle from calendar years to fiscal years. Changing the grant cycles after the Legislature passed the budget left CIF funds temporarily unencumbered and open to the governor’s sweep. It appears the calendar transition may have been organized specifically for the purpose of raiding funds later in the fiscal year.
The funding source for CIF – the tobacco settlement payments that flow through the Kansas Endowment for Youth – further complicates the problem. The state won’t receive the first estimate of this year’s payment until February, when half of the dollars have already been spent. The funds don’t arrive until April, at which point 75 percent of the funds are exhausted. In other words, the state is borrowing against something it doesn’t even know it has. With the Kansas Endowment for Youth completely bankrupt, no safety net remains to protect children’s programs if tobacco settlement dollars come in lower than expected.
Elaborate accounting tricks and gimmicks don’t dull the impact of these sweeps on Kansas children and families. Studies consistently prove early environments can set the trajectory for a child’s entire life. The Children’s Initiative Fund provides some of the most impressive early childhood outcomes in Kansas, and it is being sacrificed for a failing tax plan that has spiraled out of control. Is this really what we want for our children and our state?