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Children’s advocacy group asks for veto of funding shift to Kansas Bioscience Authority

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Thursday, May 8, 2014, at 4:09 p.m.

A children’s advocacy group is calling on Gov. Sam Brownback to veto a provision in the budget that sweeps money from a fund for children’s programs and moves it to the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

Late in the budget negotiation process last week, lawmakers decided to take $5 million of the money the state received in its legal settlement with tobacco companies and add it to the funding for the bioscience authority.

Another $55 million the state received from the settlement will go toward a variety of children’s programs. And $7 million will go into the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund, which is intended to hold money to fund the programs in the future, as money from the settlement eventually decreases.

Shannon Costoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children, said in a phone call that the KEY fund has repeatedly been raided by the Legislature in past years.

A portion of the settlement's annual payment will be ending, reducing the money to the state in future years by 20 percent, she said.

“Now we’re at the point where the endowment’s going to start declining and there’s nothing in the KEY Fund,” she said. The fund will be at about $8.6 million in 2015, but would be at $13.6 million if not for the transfer to the Bioscience Authority.

“And I think what’s important to understand is we really should have $200 million right now…to make sure those programs lasted beyond the life of that settlement,” Costoradis said.

The money would be stored up for dozens of programs, such as Tiny K, which benefits children with disabilities, and Early Head Start, which helps low-income families provide care and education to toddlers.

The governor has the power to veto individual line items in a budget bill and sign the rest of the bill into law.

“We have not yet received the budget bill. When we do, we will do a line-by-line review of the bill and discuss potential line items. We are aware of the concern regarding the KEY fund,” the governor’s spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, said in an e-mail.

The Bioscience Authority has suffered its own budget shortfalls in recent years. The program is funded by taxpayer dollars, but is run independently and overseen by a board appointed by the Legislature.

The program was created by the Kansas Economic Growth Act in 2004, and statute calls for it to receive $35 million in funding to help create bioscience jobs in Kansas.

Over the past three years, it has been shorted about $70 million, according to Kevin Lockett, the chief operating officer.

With the additional funds from the tobacco settlement, its budget will be $32 million for the new fiscal year, which starts in July.

Lockett said the Bioscience Authority had pushed for more funding, but had nothing to do with deciding where that money would come from.

He said the goal is to increase more jobs in the bioscience sector by investing in Kansas-based companies and by attracting new investment to the state from companies based elsewhere.

“We really invest in bioscience companies that have the ability to grow, to create jobs and that are Kansas-based,” he said. “If you look at the most recent data, I think the average job salary in Kansas is just short of $40,000. And if you look at the average job in the bioscience sector, it’s about $70,000.”

The Lawrence Journal-World scrutinized the Bioscience Authority’s spending earlier this week, reporting that CEO Duane Cantrell has received $150,000 in bonuses since taking the job 18 months ago. That’s on top of an annual salary of $265,000.

“I see it as a sign of support from our board that we’re going in the right direction,” Lockett said about Cantrell’s bonuses. “And I think the recommendation for this funding, I see as a sign from the Legislature that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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