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Eagle editorial: Veto of KEY Fund transfer admirable

  • Published Tuesday, May 20, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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It was a nice surprise to see Gov. Sam Brownback veto the Legislature’s $5 million transfer from the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund to the Kansas Bioscience Authority as he signed the $14.6 billion budget. In the process, he offered a rare official endorsement of the fund, which state leaders of both parties have dipped into for nearly 15 years now.

The Bioscience Authority, a worthy economic development initiative going through its own challenges, still gets the $5 million as part of a total $32 million, but via the state’s reserves rather than at the expense of future childhood development funding.

In a veto statement, Brownback said the KEY “Fund was specifically established to hold and draw interest upon excess tobacco settlement revenues so that such funds could later be used for early childhood programs” and that the $5 million “should remain available for such purposes in the future.”

With his veto, the governor stood up for the KEY Fund’s intended purpose as a trust fund dedicated to programs to benefit the physical and mental health, welfare, safety and overall well-being of children. The plan was to set aside dollars that Kansas gets from the multistate tobacco settlement – which have averaged $56 million a year – for the inevitable day when those payments cease. Directed by the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, tobacco funds have supported Parents as Teachers, Early Head Start, child care assistance, newborn screening and many other initiatives in the state.

But since 1999, more than $140 million has been diverted from the forward-looking KEY Fund for other purposes, such that its ending balance for fiscal year 2015 could be just $13.6 million. That’s a sad statement about Kansas’ commitment to investing in early childhood development.

It also reflects the state’s revenue problems through the recent past and leaders’ inability to keep their hands off a ready source of cash, noble purpose or not. Breaking past Legislatures’ promises and sweeping accounts have been a bipartisan means of paying the state’s bills for years now, with transportation funding, local government revenue sharing, and fees paid to state agencies among the pockets the state has picked freely.

Meanwhile, other states have been taking advantage of the improving economy and increasing early childhood spending, recognizing the proven power of high-quality education early in life to seed success in school and to prevent crime, poverty and other social problems later in life.

Brownback’s action suggests that he gets it, and sees the connection between early childhood education and his stated priorities of reducing the number of Kansas kids in poverty and increasing the reading proficiency of fourth-graders.

Given the plummeting revenues and budget concerns accompanying the income-tax cuts, though, it seems likely that Brownback’s admirable veto may be a one-time thing rather than the start of a ew era of kept promises in Topeka.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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