By Rhonda Holman
April 21, 2016
Kansans want to believe that their governor is a man of his word. The latest budget-balancing proposals from Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration show Statehouse assurances to be wobbly at best.
When questioned about the relentless transferring of highway money to fund state operations – more than $1 billion since 2011 – administration and other state leaders had argued that all projects would go forward.
Sweeping another $185 million from the highway fund is crucial to all three options presented Wednesday by state budget director Shawn Sullivan to help close the newly projected $300 million budget gap through June 2017. That day the Kansas Department of Transportation also delayed 25 projects that had been scheduled through 2018 – job-creating investments in Kansas communities and public safety now on hold because the state is broke.
When Kansas Action for Children warned last month that the administration wanted to sell off the future tobacco settlement proceeds, which are earmarked by law for the Kansas Endowment for Youth and the Children’s Initiative Fund, Sullivan mocked the idea in a tweet about “black helicopters” dropping off a “secret deal.”
But, sure enough, Sullivan touted the securitization plan Wednesday as part of the governor’s preferred option, because it would avoid 3 to 5 percent cuts to state agencies and K-12 schools. Sullivan claimed the new maneuver would do no harm to kids or children’s programs, as $42 million in tobacco funds would continue to flow their way.
But Shannon Cotsoradis, the executive director of KAC, told The Eagle editorial board this week that the legislation necessary to allow the sell-off would remove all statutory protections for the KEY and CIF, which support 13 programs in Sedgwick County alone. So Kansas’ commitment to fund early childhood would only be as good as the Brownback administration’s promises.
Two other ugly options conflict with legislative intent and earlier administration talking points (and may be designed mostly to make the tobacco scheme look preferable). One would postpone the $93 million April payment to the state pension fund not until September, as per recent legislative action, but for 12 months. Another would slash K-12 public education by $57 million, though districts were told their block-grant funding from the state would be flat but stable through the next school year.
Brownback has given Kansans other reasons to be skeptical of his administration’s numbers, claims and promises, especially since he won re-election by declaring that “the sun is shining in Kansas, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.”
But the doubt doesn’t stop there. Can anything state leaders say be taken to the bank? Or is everything subject to change in order to protect the 2012 income tax cuts that have hollowed out the state’s tax base?