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Funding uncertainty has ‘cooling effect’ on Kansas Bioscience Authority

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 18, 2012, at 8:32 p.m.

TOPEKA – The Kansas Bioscience Authority has not received payments from the state since November and it is creating a “cooling effect” on its ability to attract high-tech bioscience companies to the state, a KBA official said Wednesday.

Gov. Sam Brownback froze funding to the KBA earlier this year. And the uncertainty led state Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, to suggest the lawmakers require the state treasurer to give the KBA money on specific dates each quarter to ensure it has money to spur bioscience projects. Vratil’s suggestion came during a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing about the state budget Wednesday.

“The money is supposed to be paid to the Bioscience Authority, and I want it paid to the Bioscience Authority,” Vratil said. The proposal will likely become part of budget negotiations between the House and Senate.

The KBA has received many calls from companies that are concerned about the frozen funding, but so far the doubts have not driven any companies away, said KBA spokeswoman Sherlyn Manson. She said the KBA has enough money to cover current obligations, and it announced $3.3 million worth of investments in human and animal health bioscience in March.

But for future investments, the KBA is counting on the state to release $22.7 million to comply with the 2004 Kansas Economic Growth Act that led to the creation of the KBA.

Meanwhile, the doubts have created a “cooling effect,” she said.

Manson said the KBA has received no assurances from Brownback’s administration that funds will be released.

“Kansas needs to reaffirm its commitment to the KBA,” she said.

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the administration isn’t aware of any funding issues with KBA, and she said the $22 million will remain on hold until the Legislature decides what they want to do with it.

State Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who is chair of the ways and means committee, said that eventually the companies the KBA is trying to steer toward bioscience ventures will have questions about the state’s commitment to the KBA.

In January, Gov. Sam Brownback withheld $22 million in funding earmarked for the KBA amid heated debates about results of a forensic audit.

The audit confirmed former KBA chief executive Tom Thornton had misspent public money on artwork for his home and on a plane ticket for a job interview. It also showed he had destroyed documents. But it found few problems with the KBA’s efforts to attract high-tech biological science companies to Kansas.

State Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and others have said the audit downplayed problems at the KBA. Meanwhile, the House last month unanimously approved a bill that would try to prevent conflicts of interest among KBA employees and board members. The Senate sent the bill to a conference committee to negotiate changes.

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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