Take target off Kansas Bioscience Authority

Some state leaders view the Kansas Bioscience Authority as an expendable source of quick cash amid the budget crisis.
Some state leaders view the Kansas Bioscience Authority as an expendable source of quick cash amid the budget crisis. AP

Some conservative state leaders may view the Kansas Bioscience Authority as an expendable source of quick cash amid the budget crisis, especially those who ideologically oppose its capturing of tax dollars for economic development.

But the quasi-government agency has a record of results and deserves better than a sneak attack during the legislative session’s overtime.

It’s telling that nobody will take responsibility for the newly introduced bill to place the KBA in the Commerce Department and allow its assets to be seized and liquidated. And the only bill proponent to testify at a Monday hearing was Steve Anderson, the governor’s former budget director and an analyst for the Kansas Policy Institute, who argued against government competing with the private sector.

To be sure, it didn’t help the KBA’s reputation a few years ago when a former president misspent funds. But new leadership and reforms have corrected its course.

And any assessment of the KBA’s performance and worth needs to take into account its chronic underfunding during the Brownback administration. Though originally projected to receive $35 million a year, and appropriated $112 million by the Legislature between 2011 and 2015, the KBA has received just $23 million during the past four fiscal years, according to president and CEO Duane Cantrell.

Even so, as business leaders told a Senate committee in its defense Monday, the Olathe-based KBA has proved successful in seeding research and startups in bioscience and technology.

Biochemical industry entrepreneur Nicholas Franano warned that if KBA and its related angel investor tax credit program are killed off – on top of the dissolution of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. and the Pipeline entrepreneurial fellowship program’s expansion outside the state – Kansas will have succeeded in putting a “‘Closed for Business’ sign at the state line for startup and early-stage, high-growth-potential technology firms.”

The Kansas Economic Growth Act of 2004 and the resulting Kansas Bioscience Authority were seen as a foresighted effort to add another leg to Kansas’ economy amid uncertainties in aviation manufacturing, oil and gas, and agriculture. The idea was to wed bioscience research with entrepreneurship, helping turn bioscience work at state universities into successful businesses and make the state a leader in this burgeoning field. Though it’s associated with then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, one of its two architects was Nick Jordan, then a state senator and now secretary of revenue under Gov. Sam Brownback.

The KBA’s existence and influence have been credited with helping the state land the $1.25 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, now under construction in Manhattan, and win National Cancer Institute designation in 2012 for the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who said Monday he was interested in advancing the bill, should take the target off the KBA.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman