Josh Harbour
December 14, 2016

Russell Child Development Center officials and area state lawmakers on Wednesday heard a presentation from Rise Up Kansas, a group made up of five advocacy organizations aiming to enact comprehensive state tax reform in 2017.

The group is traveling the state, talking about its platform for tax reform to members of the media and lawmakers.

“We feel without tax reform, we’re going to continue to jeopardize childhood programs like we have in RCDC and other programs throughout the state that are funded by the Children’s Initiative Fund,” Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said during the presentation.

KAC is one of the five organizations that make up Rise Up Kansas, along with the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Organization of State Employees and Kansas-National Education Association. The group’s proposed tax plan was unveiled last week.

The group is proposing:

• Ending Gov. Brownback’s “March to Zero,” plan that calls for phasing out individual income taxes and restoring Kansas’ ability to invest in schools, roads, public safety and strong communities.

• Reinstating the third income tax bracket of 6.45 percent for Kansans earning $40,000 per year or more while preserving current income tax rates for 70 percent of Kansans.

• Closing the “LLC loophole” and ensuring the state’s 330,000 LLCs, S corporations, partnerships, farms and sole proprietorships pay the same income tax rates as all other Kansans.

• Reducing the Kansas food sales tax rate of 6.5 percent — the second highest in the nation — to 5 percent, putting nearly $100 million back into the pocketbooks of Kansas families who need it the most.

• Enacting a temporary, three-year sweep from the Kansas Highway Fund in order to avoid a sales tax increase, while simultaneously pairing the movement with an 11-cent increase in the Kansas gas tax. The group claims this would hold the state’s infrastructure investment harmless for the first time since Gov. Brownback took office.

Earlier this year, the Kansas Children’s Cabinet announced that budget cuts were necessary due to a $3.3 million reduction in funding included in $97 million in funding reductions to state agencies that Gov. Brownback announced in mid-May.

The Children’s Cabinet uses the state’s share of the 1998 master settlement agreement with large tobacco companies to provide grants through the Children’s Initiatives Fund for programs for children and families.

The $3.3 million cut came out to about 8 percent of the Children’s Cabinet’s $42 million budget for fiscal year 2017 and was not divided equally among the more than 100 programs receiving funds from the tobacco settlement. As a result, some programs were held harmless while others faced a 14 percent cut.

RCDC was one of the organizations that faced a 14 percent cut, which totaled $312,488. The agency had to cut from personnel, programming and operations. Those cuts took effect July 1.

Personnel cuts for RCDC included four grant-funded staff positions, a Healthy Steps specialist in Ford County, a Triple P coach position, a Building Blocks coordinator and a Learn & Play project coordinator.

On the programming and operation side, a total of $191,222 in cuts were made to supplies, equipment, training, professional development and public awareness efforts, as well as the elimination of the entire Turn A Page, Touch A Mind program, and eliminating money earmarked for library grants.

During Wednesday’s presentation, RCDC Executive Director Deanna Berry and Building Block Early Childhood Block Grant Director Katrina Lowry talked about the local impact of reduced early childhood investment for the region.

Lowry said the reductions will mean fewer opportunities for information about community support and services, parent education, exposure to high quality early learning experiences, and basic necessities.

In a letter sent in June to stakeholders, the media, and lawmakers, Berry wrote that the elimination of the Healthy Steps and Triple P Coach positions will result in at least 60 fewer children and their caregivers receiving direct home visiting support.

“We’re going to lose a lot if we continue down this path,” Lowry said Wednesday. “Not just right now, we’re going to lose things that will happen 50 years from now, 100 years from now, because we’re changing families, and we’re changing the way that they function and we’re giving kids a better start in life.”

McKay said she thought the presentation went well.

“We’re traveling the state because we’re concerned about the risks to early childhood programs and funding throughout Kansas,” she said. “RCDC and their programs here are good examples of the opportunities we have to shape the trajectory of little kids’ lives.”

McKay said that Rise Up Kansas is traveling the state to talk about how state budget decisions affect children, adding that the point is driven home when representatives of local agencies talk about the effects on their programs.

After the presentation, Rise Up Kansas officials and lawmakers toured RCDC. State Sen.-elect John Doll (R-Garden City), State Rep.-elect John P. Wheeler (R-Garden City), and State Rep. Shannon Francis (R-Liberal) attended the presentation and took the tour.

Berry said she hoped the tour opened lawmakers’ eyes as to how cuts could affect local programs.

“I think they all, in general terms, understand,” Berry said after the meeting.

Read more from the Garden City Telegram here.

KendraGARDEN CITY TELEGRAM: Rise Up Kansas shares tax-reform message