TOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Brownback administration request to explore budget cuts also targets kids’ programs

By Jonathan Shorman
August 12, 2016

A directive from Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to state agencies to explore a potential 5 percent budget cut also targets early childhood programs.

A panel that controls funding to the programs voted Friday to comply with the request to submit information about a 5 percent reduction, but also said it will produce a second budget without reductions. The panel’s chairwoman said cuts are likely.

The Kansas Children’s Cabinet grappled during a meeting with whether to rebuff the administration’s request. Cabinet member LeEtta Felter said the request was neutering the authority of the cabinet.

“I consider this robbing from the most vulnerable children and families among us in Kansas,” Felter said.

Cabinet director Janice Smith said she was told in early August by the Division of Budget to prepare a budget that reduced spending by 5 percent for programs administered by cabinet staff. That meant targeting autism diagnosis funding, a child care quality initiative and early childhood block grants.

The 5 percent cut across the three programs amounts to a little more than $833,000. The budget proposal with cuts is due Monday, Smith said.

Though the administration has requested information about 5 percent cuts, there is no guarantee Brownback’s budget will include reductions. However, cabinet chairwoman Amanda Adkins, a Brownback appointee, suggested that is likely.

“There’s probably at least in the governor’s budget going to be some cuts,” Adkins said. “I know nobody likes that, but that is at least what was communicated to us.”

Children’s Cabinet programs are primarily funded by dollars from a settlement agreement between Kansas and major tobacco companies. By contrast, most state agencies are funded by the state general fund.

Smith called the request “out of juncture,” given that the Children’s Cabinet will not actually make final spending recommendations until later in the year.

“I’ve never ever received a mandate from anyone outside of this group (the cabinet) for a budget to look a particular way,” Smith said.

Brownback officials have said the request to the agencies for information on possible reductions is common. They have said no final decisions will be made until after the release of a new revenue forecast in November.

“This is routine. The previous administration included a 5 percent reduction request in 6 of their 8 fiscal years,” budget director Shawn Sullivan wrote on Twitter Thursday night.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Brownback also called it common practice.

“We had a very difficult budget year this past year and receipts continue to lag (behind) what the consensus (revenue) estimates were. We hope those are moving back in a better direction,” Brownback said.

The cabinet unanimously approved sending a budget with the 5 percent reductions. It also approved sending a second budget that makes no cuts, which Smith called the “restoration” budget.

Under that spending plan, funding to early childhood block grants would rise to more than $40 million. The block grants currently receive $15.7 million, but that would fall to $14.9 million under the cut budget.

The large increase under the restoration budget would come in part by allocating all the tobacco settlement dollars the state receives. Last year, while the state received $59 million in tobacco settlement cash, only $49 million was appropriated to Children’s Cabinet programs. Another $14.6 million was transferred or swept over the course of the year.

Adkins praised the early childhood block grant program and indicated she had expressed the importance of the program in discussions with the governor.

“I’m a big believer in cutting when you are seeking efficiencies, but cutting programs with demonstrated outcomes makes less sense to me,” Adkins said.

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