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April 18, 2012
TOPEKA The state this week received $56 million as its latest installment payment from a national settlement with the major tobacco companies.
Children's advocates say that's a reason to fully fund a range of programs for youngsters. The Legislature apparently agrees.
But the Governor's Office said the fresh payment was no reason to back away from the administration's "conservative" approach to the tobacco funding, which would mean a cut of about $16 million for programs paid for from the Children's Initiative Fund.
If the governor's recommendation were followed, "the impact would be overwhelming for those organizations" dependent on the funding, said Shannon Cotsoradis, chief executive of Kansas Action for Children. "Children would lose access to care immediately. And many of these programs would not make it through another year. You'd have early childhood programs that are cornerstones in their communities around the state that would close their doors. Thirty percent is an enormous cut to expect those programs to absorb. Providing high-quality child care is not an industry where there's much margin to begin with."
Citing the uncertainty of how much Kansas would continue to collect as its share of the tobacco settlement, the governor recommended that $16 million less be earmarked for the children's programs in the fiscal year that starts July 1. Among the programs targeted for the cuts were ones promoting parenting skills and early childhood development.
Because of ongoing litigation over the settlement distributions that could reduce the amount owed Kansas, the state could see in 2013, or more likely 2014, a significant drop in the amount it gets. Administration officials said it would be better to budget for that possibility early and then add more money to the programs as it becomes available.
“Rather than scrambling after grants are committed and recipients have already made plans to spend the funding, the governor is making a conservative estimate for (fiscal) 2013 that the state will receive $40 million. Should the state receive more in the spring of 2013, the governor will dedicate all additional revenues to children’s programs and work with the Children’s Cabinet and stakeholders to channel those additional dollars to best meet the needs of Kansas children, but not until we have that money in hand,” said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor's chief spokesperson, in an email to KHI News Service.
So far, legislators seem to have sided with the children's advocates.
House and Senate budget negotiators tentatively agreed at the end of the regular session that the $16 million in cuts recommended by the governor be restored. But the issue remains unsettled until after lawmakers return next week for the wrap-up session and each chamber signs off on the budget plan.
Members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee heard Tuesday that the tobacco money had arrived and signaled they preferred to leave intact the funding for the children's programs.
Kansas is one of 46 states that receives money as a result of the so-called Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which was struck in November 1998 between the states and the nation's four leading cigarette companies to compensate the states for the costs they had incurred treating sick smokers. The companies agreed to pay a minimum of more than $200 billion over the first 25 years of the agreement.
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