Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kansas Action for Children criticizes Brownback’s plan to divert funds from children’s endowment

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed taking $9.5 million from an endowment fund set up to pay for early-childhood programs and transferring that to the state's all-purpose general fund to help balance the budget.

Advocates for children are unhappy with the proposal.

"We are taking money from little kids to bail the state out," Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said Tuesday.

In his budget amendment, Brownback said the state recently received $68 million as part of its annual share of the landmark lawsuit with Big Tobacco companies. The amount was larger than expected, so the transfer of $9.5 million to the general fund, he said, will not affect any of the children's programs.

The state has budgeted $55.8 million for children's programs from the tobacco settlement.

But Cotsoradis argues that the difference between the annual tobacco settlement and what is budgeted for children's programs, which is $12 million, should be kept in what is called the Kansas Endowment for Youth.

The KEY fund was established in 1999 as a conduit for the state to receive money from the settlement with tobacco companies.

Most of the funds are appropriated annually to a multitude of early-childhood education programs. A portion of the money was supposed to be held back over the years to ensure funding of those early-childhood programs once the tobacco settlement runs its course in 2025.

Kansas Action for Children says that the endowment should contain $216 million at this point. It currently has a balance of $1.165 million.

Brownback isn't the first Kansas governor to raid the KEY, but Cotsoradis said this time is different.

In the past, funds were diverted from the KEY because the state was suffering economic problems, she said. Now, she said, Brownback needs the funding because he signed into law tax cuts that cut too deeply.

"This is a mess of our own making," she said. "Tax cuts shouldn't come at the expense of access to high-quality early-education opportunities for Kansas children."

Last year, Brownback signed into law cuts in the state personal income tax and the elimination of state income taxes for nearly 200,000 business owners.

The loss of tax revenue has sent Brownback and legislators scrambling for revenue from other sources. The Legislature is set to return May 8 to write a budget and work on tax issues.