Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback dodged any mention of his state’s perennially out-of-balance budget in his State of the State speech this week. Others don’t have the luxury of denial.
Shawn Sullivan, Brownback’s budget director, told lawmakers on Wednesday that plans for filling the latest budget gap caused by insufficient revenues include more transfers from the state’s highway fund.
To make up for revenue shortfalls of $14 million for this fiscal year and $170 million for the budget year beginning in July, Brownback also proposes to dismantle a structure that since 2000 has enabled the state to invest in programs that benefit young children and families.
The Children’s Initiative Fund receives money from a legal settlement with tobacco manufacturers to disperse to school districts and private partners. A bipartisan Children’s Cabinet sets strategic objectives and monitors how the money is spent.
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Brownback wants to end that system and funnel tobacco settlement money into the state general fund. Although early childhood programs would continue to receive money through the duration of the current budget, the state would be unlikely to maintain that level of commitment in future years.
Sullivan nonsensically told lawmakers the move would make spending more transparent. His false assertion came a day after a new efficiency report praised the accountability of the Children’s Initiative Fund and noted that investments in early childhood programs had resulted in documented savings for school districts and other state services.
The efficiency study, prepared for the Legislature by the consulting firm Alvarez & Marshal, identifies measures it says could result in $2 billion worth of savings or new money for Kansas government. Some of them, like hiring people in the Department of Revenue to track down delinquent taxpayers, make good sense.
But the most hefty recommendations involve benefit package sacrifices by state workers, many of whom already are underpaid and demoralized. Others, like closing offices that provide services for families and for disabled citizens, place cost savings above the welfare of Kansans.
Kansas government isn’t just shrinking, it is falling apart. And the only permanent remedy — repealing overly aggressive income tax cuts enacted in 2013 — is something else Brownback doesn’t want to talk about.