President Obama’s budget proposal sent to Congress on Wednesday includes $714 million to build a federal biosecurity lab in Kansas, the largest proposed federal expenditure for the project to date.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said the recommendation signals the administration’s support for building the $1.15 billion lab, which will study large-animal diseases and develop measures to protect the nation’s food supply.
“We’re not there yet,” Roberts said, “but it’s a milestone.”
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, said in a statement that the lab “is vital to the security of our country’s food supply, the health of our livestock industry and growing our state’s economy.”
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He said he would work with state lawmakers to secure additional financial commitments from the state, which the budget recommendation anticipates.
The Department of Homeland Security would build the lab at Kansas State University to replace a facility at Plum Island, N.Y.
The recommendation comes amid federal budget debates over reducing the nation’s spending levels and controlling debt, which had prompted some discussion about scaling back the project’s size and scope or possibly keeping the current research lab in New York.
Combined with the state’s bonding share of $202 million, supporters said the money in the Obama budget would be enough to complete the project.
Obama’s overall budget is unlikely to emerge unscathed in the ongoing debate over spending priorities.
But the lab appears to have support because Congress provided funds for it in an earlier temporary measure to keep the government funded.
Roberts said spending and debt issues haven’t changed, nor have federal across-the-board cuts of $85 billion, but he was confident the administration was behind getting the new lab built.
“What has changed is the commitment to get the lab done,” Roberts said. “The administration is finally coming across.”
State officials have long promoted northeast Kansas as a potential site for the lab, seeing it as crucial to efforts to create a strong biosciences industry and to create more than 300 well-paying jobs. The state has said it’s committed to issuing up to $105 million in bonds to help with the project.
The lab is expected to sit on 46 acres by the K-State campus in Manhattan and is projected to employ more than 750 workers during construction and more than 300 in permanent positions. The overall economic impact is estimated at $3.5 billion during its first two decades.
Contributing: David Goldstein of McClatchy Newspapers