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Kansas lawmakers set to decide whether to approve bonds to build biodefense lab in Manhattan

  • Eagle Topeka Bureau
  • Published Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at 5:48 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, June 17, 2013, at 9 a.m.

— State senators are scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to borrow more than $200 million to help build a laboratory to fight biological terrorism.

At issue is whether to approve $202 million in bonds for development of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, a $1.15 billion national laboratory to counter possible terrorist threats to crops and livestock.

If approved, the bond action would raise the state’s investment to $307 million to help develop the laboratory near Kansas State University in Manhattan.

State officials have fought for years to convince the federal government to build the lab in Kansas.

The bond bill, Senate Bill 245, represents “the last remaining piece of the funding to get the facility under construction,” said Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson.

But with the annual legislative session winding down, neither chamber in the Legislature has passed a bill authorizing the bond authority, Bruce said.

Either the House or the Senate must do that for the bill to go to a House-Senate conference committee and then final action in a session that lawmakers hope to wrap up this week.

The state’s share of the funding has bogged down amid concerns of potential cost overruns and whether the cash-strapped federal government will provide enough money to bring the project to completion.

The cost estimate for the project has more than doubled since it was first proposed.

One lawmaker who had misgivings about the financing when the issue was considered in committee is Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain.

On Monday, he said he would support the bill.

Kerschen, a dairy farmer, said he recognizes the need for the federal laboratory to protect the nation’s food supply from any potential biological disaster.

He said his main concern with the bill was the lack of a Plan B if the federal government backs out on the funding. “We’d have to find more resources or roll back the (state) tax cuts to pay for it,” he said.

Now, he said he’s satisfied that problem has been solved by two amendments that were attached to SB 245.

One would hold the state back from selling the bonds until there’s a final construction contract. The second would require the federal government to pay for increased costs from plan changes or overruns.

Reach Dion Lefler at 785-296-3006 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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