March 11, 2016

As with highway funds, dollars for early education were diverted over the years to address budget woes in Kansas.

Such transfers gained serious steam after Gov. Sam Brownback took office in 2011. For example, he’s swept more than $1 billion from the Kansas Department of Transportation — so far.

His ultraconservative cohorts now are eyeing the ultimate money grab in permanently transferring highway and other special funds to the state’s general fund.

Along with snatching more than $500 million annually from the KDOT, Senate Bill 463 would abolish the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund, the Children’s Initiatives Fund and Economic Development Initiatives Fund, and put all of their revenues in the general fund.

There’s nothing to suggest those dollars would be spent as intended due to persistent and huge budget shortfalls.

While gutting investment in roads and economic development always hurts, this state cannot afford to shortchange programs proven to help preschoolers.

Locally, families and children in 19 southwest Kansas counties benefit from early childhood programs offered through Russell Child Development Center.

Education- and health-related initiatives statewide help ward off poor outcomes that trigger higher costs to society in social services, law enforcement and beyond.

Jeopardizing effective assistance to pay for the governor’s deep income-tax cuts is shortsighted and reckless.

Not surprisingly, there also were reports of backroom negotiations with private investors centering on the sale of assets of future tobacco settlement funds now allocated to children’s programs.

That maneuver would involve selling the assets for pennies on the dollar in exchange for a one-time payment of $400 million for a short-term budget fix.

Sadly, such fiscal irresponsibility has become a hallmark of the Brownback regime.

Sponsored and introduced by Senate Ways and Means, of which Brownback ally Larry Powell of Garden City is a member, SB 463 is a blatant attempt to offset fallout of Brownback’s failed economic experiment.

The ploy to prop up the state general fund also would curb negative publicity that’s understandably resulted from incessant raids on vital state programs.

The bill is a dud. Those responsible for Kansas’ fiscal mess cannot be trusted, and should keep their hands off the targeted special funds.

Read more from the Garden City Telegram.