Cuts in tobacco-funded children's programs proposed

The prospect of fewer settlement dollars for the state could mean cutbacks

0 | Children, Agencies, Tobacco

— State budget officials expect Kansas in the next fiscal year will get between $15 million and $20 million less than this year from its ongoing legal settlement with the nation's major tobacco companies.

That reduction in state revenue could mean cuts get passed along to a variety of programs intended to benefit children.

The tobacco money - the state's share of a national settlement that compensated states for the costs of medical care for sick smokers - for the past several years has helped fund about 20 programs overseen by the Kansas Children's Cabinet and administered by the state's health, education and welfare departments.

The programs range from parent training to child care to newborn health screenings.

Forecasting fewer tobacco dollars, state budget officials already have instructed agencies to reduce their tobacco-funded children's budgets by 20 percent for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2012.

Most agencies filed their budget plans Thursday with the Kansas Division of Budget.

Those plans are then reviewed and perhaps incorporated in the governor's budget recommendations to the Legislature in January.

Whether Gov. Sam Brownback subsequently adopts, rejects or modifies the department spending proposals remains to be seen.

Some agencies already are indicating that they will try to offset the ordered cuts with money taken from other areas of their budgets, sparing the children's programs.

“We were told to reduce our tobacco-settlement spending by about $5.1 million – and we’ve done that – for (fiscal) 2013,” said Angela De Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. “We’re trying to make up for that with money from other parts of the budget. I don’t know if we can, but we’re going to try.”

The potential cuts to children's programs were discussed briefly today during a meeting of the Kansas Children's Cabinet.

“We’re not in a position to speculate on what the changes would be,” Amanda Adkins, the cabinet's chairwoman, told KHI News Service. “We don’t know yet. We’ll know more by the end of the year.”

The anticipated reduction in tobacco settlement dollars is driven by an ongoing legal dispute between the states and the tobacco companies over the so-called Master Settlement Agreement that established the formula for how much the companies would pay Kansas and 45 other states.

If the spending plans submitted to the budget division are approved by the governor and the Legislature, the reductions are sure to hurt the state’s children’s programs, said Shannon Cotsoradis, chief executive of Kansas Action for Children, a Topeka-based advocacy group.

She said the budget division's directive to the agencies was premature.

“My concern is that in prior years, this (tobacco settlement) funding has always been based on the previous year’s receipts,” Cotsoradis said. “The money wasn’t spent if it wasn’t there. But now we’re cutting budgets before we know what those receipts are going to be. We don’t know if they (the cuts) are necessary.”

Budget Director Steve Anderson wasn't immediately available for comment.