By Tim Carpenter and Jonathan Shorman
October 5, 2016

Cabinet agencies submitted documents to Gov. Sam Brownback outlining implications of a potential 5 percent budget cut that included $17 million in spending reductions in the corrections department and loss of nearly $7 million spent on children and family programs.

The documents obtained by The Topeka Capital-Journal, which the Brownback administration sought to suppress by declaring the information exempt from the Kansas Open Records Act, showed spending reductions of that magnitude would “compromise public safety” and weaken the Kansas National Guard’s capacity to provide a “ready and reliable force.”

In the Kansas Department of Corrections, the possible reduction would be met by slicing $6 million from community corrections, $1.7 million from juvenile prevention grants and $2.5 million from mental health, vocational and transitional housing services.

Meeting the benchmark also would require elimination of the corrections department’s mentoring, victim service and batterer intervention programs.

“A reduction of this magnitude would do irreparable damage to the corrections system and compromise public safety,” the agency memorandum said. “Low-risk offenders would no longer be supervised by parole or community corrections.”

DCF would close centers, cut staff

A comparable reduction in the Kansas Department for Children and Families would slash state funding by $6.8 million. Under the scenario shared internally by DCF officials, the agency would close service centers, reduce grants and lower its legal contingency fund.

The agency submitted 18 possible cuts that included, as the top priority, shutting down service centers in Goodland, Greensburg and Iola. That move would save $70,000 in state funds and $41,000 in federal funds. DCF officials didn’t believe the closures would affect the agency’s mission or goals.

DCF could find large savings by cutting 66 Economic and Employment Services positions, or 10 percent. The agency anticipates it would save $1.4 million in state funds and about $1.7 million in federal funds.

According to the agency document, child care and food assistance applications are generally required to be processed in 30 days, and the job cuts would slow processing.

The agency outlined $1 million in information technology savings. The agency also would eliminate $500,000 from the Rehabilitation Services Independent Living Program.

“A $500,000 reduction will significantly reduce the ability of the 10 Kansas (Centers for Independent Living) to provide vital services that promote self-reliance of persons with significant disabilities throughout the state,” the document says.

DCF also proposed reducing its legal contingency fund to $300,000.

“The agency was asked to submit a proposal for a 5 percent State General Funds budget reduction as part of a routine budget exercise. We were pleased to learn the 5 percent reduction will not be included in the budget director’s recommendations to the 2017 legislature,” DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed said.

Annie McKay, director of Kansas Action for Children, said the proposals taken together would represent a loss of critical services for vulnerable Kansans.

“It’s simply going to be devastating to low-income families and local communities as well. You’re talking about a significant loss of resources — a total of $11 million” between state and federal funds, McKay said.

Administration wanted reports secret

The Brownback administration relies on individual agency reports to develop a unified budget for the next fiscal year, which the governor is required to submit to the Legislature in January. State agencies were asked to propose options for reducing expenditures by 5 percent in wake of state tax collections that have fallen about $70 million below estimates three months into the current fiscal year.

Shawn Sullivan, the governor’s budget director, indicated more recently the governor wouldn’t seek across-the-board spending reductions. Sullivan did acknowledge the current fiscal year’s budget would have to be reshaped before addressing the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1.

In September, the Brownback administration declared the budget documents from state agencies forwarded to the budget office were “draft” materials beyond reach of the Kansas Open Records Act.

The confidential documents from the Adjutant General’s Department and the office of emergency management showed applying the 5 percent reduction would result the in loss of more than $500,000 annually in state and federal funding.

These cutbacks would touch facilities, engineering operations in Topeka and Wichita air bases and other areas, agency documents showed.

If carried through, the adjutant general’s office said, inadequate funding of facilities would impact the Kansas Army and Air National Guard’s ability to train, accomplish missions and “be a ready and reliable force for the commander in chief and our communities.”

Meanwhile, a set of internal budget documents from the Kansas Department of Revenue said a 5 percent rollback would reduce the agency’s spending by $766,000. The revenue department offered to meet the savings goal by leaving 15 jobs vacant, but warned it could result in collection of fewer delinquent taxes.

The state government’s budget materials aren’t subject to disclosure under the state’s open records laws until Brownback submits a formal budget to the 2017 Legislature in January, a spokeswoman for the governor said.

However, the state budget director to Govs. Bill Graves, Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson said the financial documents now being shielded from public view were classified as public records for more than a decade before Brownback’s election.

Legal counsel for the Kansas Board of Regents, the supervisory entity for the state’s colleges and universities but not a Cabinet agency, concluded the budget recommendations submitted by each school to the Board of Regents and the overall budget program forwarded by the board to Sullivan’s office were public records.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal.