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Kansas Republicans balk at funding request for lab

The NBAF construction site in Manhattan, Kan., in spring 2012. (File photo)
The NBAF construction site in Manhattan, Kan., in spring 2012. (File photo)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has requested an additional $202 million in funding for the proposed top-security animal disease lab in Manhattan, Kan. But some state Republicans said the funding is a “moving target,” and they want to be sure the state isn’t going to be responsible for more than it can afford for a federal facility.

Kansas legislators need to quickly authorize additional state bonds for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility because the federal government's budget problems could create uncertainty about the project's financing if it isn't settled,  the Republican governor said last week.

But Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican and vice president of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he is concerned the proposed lab could be careening out of control financially. If the Legislature grants the governor’s new request, Kansas will have committed almost $350 million to the federal animal disease lab.

“The cost of the project has gone from $500 million to over a billion dollars,” Denning said in an interview.  “The original project started out costing $1,000 per square foot and now already has increased to $2,000 a square foot.”

Given today’s interest rates, Denning said a 20- or 25-year note would cost the state some $15 million in debt service.

Barbara Bollier, a moderate Republican from Mission Hills, said she would like to see the governor compromise on slashing state income taxes.

“It’s intriguing to me that the governor keeps wanting more money for more projects and yet he’s reducing our ability to bring in that revenue with his tax plan,” she said.

Still, Bollier said she believes most of the state’s legislators support NBAF and believe in its job-creating and economic development potential.

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, Gov. Brownback’s spokesman, said the governor understands legislators’ concerns.

"A number of them weren’t part of the Kansas Legislature when the state began this process,” she said. “So it’s right they should have questions so they can become fully informed.”

Jones-Sontag said the governor will not make further budget cuts to provide the additional $202 million in bonds.