Senate passes bill to allow sale of Kansas Bioscience Authority assets

Kansas City Star

The Kansas Senate passed a bill Thursday that will allow the state to sell off the assets of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, a move meant to help the state pay its bills in the short term.

Over the past decade the state has invested more than $200 million in the Bioscience Authority, a private-public partnership meant to help boost investment in the biotech sector, but it anticipates getting only about $25 million from selling off its assets.

The Bioscience Authority, created under former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, faced a scandal four years ago when an audit revealed that its former director had misspent funds and destroyed documents.

However, many lawmakers say it has played a key role in economic development in Kansas and credit it with helping bring the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility to Manhattan.

SB 474, which enables the authority’s assets to be sold, passed the Senate by a vote of 34-4. It will now head to the Kansas House.

The bill also includes a series of transparency reforms for the Kansas Department of Commerce’s STAR bonds program, something that has been a political football this session. It was revealed earlier in the session that Gov. Sam Brownback planned to use the program to lure the American Royal, an event that involves the World Series of Barbeque, from Missouri to Kansas.

The program allows municipalities to use sales tax revenue to pay off the bonds used to construct entertainment districts and tourist attractions.

The bill would prohibit the transfer of sales tax revenue between districts, provide an annual performance audit of STAR bonds projects and require a competitive bid process for the construction contracts that result from the bonds. It will also require developers to demonstrate that a private sector program can cover at least 51 percent of a project’s cost before it is approved by the Department of Commerce.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3