The Kansas Senate passed to final action a bill that would allow $202 million in bonds for the National Bio and Agro-Defense facility during floor action Tuesday.
President Obama’s budget proposed $714 million in federal funding for the Manhattan, KS facility. That proposal led Gov. Sam Brownback’s office to ask the Legislature to move quickly in bumping up the state’s commitment to lock in the federal funds.
The state has already allocated some $100 million for the project, the total cost of which is estimated at about $1.15 billion, a much higher price tag than what was originally expected by those involved in discussions. Initially, the federal government planned to sell the old facility at Plum Island for $500 million, and the money from the sale would build the facility in Manhattan. However, changes in market conditions after the initial estimate made it impossible to sell the Plum Island facility.
Constructing a building in tornado alley also required changing the design to increase fortification, and thus, doubled the cost for the facility. At that time, it was determined a negotiated agreement between Kansas and the federal government would be necessary to bring this facility to fruition.
The Senate tentatively agreed to the additional $202 million Tuesday and scheduled a final vote for Wednesday. If approved, the House would still have to sign off on the bill, then the State Finance Council would have a say. The Senate bill would prohibit the finance council from selling the new bonds unless the state has in hand a contract with the federal government ensuring that any cost overruns will be paid by the feds.
At the first meeting on April 25, committee members discussed the pros and cons of the cost and placement of the facility in Manhattan. They expressed concern that Kansas will be “on the hook” to pay additional costs in the future to operate the federal facility. There were also concerns for the possibilities of disease escape and the resulting danger to livestock populations and public safety.
Senator Jim Denning (R) Overland Park, expressed his concern that now Kansas is required to help build the facility. He stated that when the project was first introduced, Kansas was only required to furnish the land.
On May 9, a follow-up meeting was held with only a 90 minute notice to committee members and those following the issue. Conferees were allowed to submit testimony, something that is rarely allowed at this point in the legislative session, and the following proponents did so: James Heeter, President and CEO of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; Tracey Osborne, President of Overland Park Chamber of Commerce; Tom Jernigan, DVM, President of Kansas Veterinary Medical Association; Steve Baccus, President of Kansas Farm Bureau; and Mark Harms, President of the Kansas Livestock Association. The only conferee to submit opposition testimony was Brandy Carter, CEO of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association.
In early March, National Farmers Union passed its 2013 policy at its annual convention in Springfield, MA. The policy clearly states: “(We) urge Congress to upgrade the Plum Island Research Facility; however, we oppose constructing a National Bio- and Agro-Defense research facility in any location critical to food production in our nation. That said, if built on the mainland United States, rigorous standards of containment must be developed and the government should assume complete liability should containment not be successful. Funding must be adequate and continuous to meet the rigorous standards of containment. To prevent any bio-security risk, funding for this facility should be exempt from any budgetary cuts.”