The unease that some conservative Kansas senators demonstrated Thursday about supporting $202 million in bonds to help fund NBAF isn’t surprising. That’s a lot of money, especially for legislators who’ve cut taxes so sharply that even paying the state’s bills is a challenge.
The senators are concerned that Kansas simply can’t afford the extra money and are reluctant to commit the state to additional debt, even for a project as important as the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, which is to be built in Manhattan.
Lawmakers learned about the additional $202 million about the time they learned that President Barack Obama had included $714 million for NBAF in his federal budget proposal. Though the president’s decision to invest fully in NBAF came as great news, the accompanying expectation that Kansas would chip in another substantial sum tempered the excitement in some quarters.
Landon Fulmer, Gov. Sam Brownback’s chief of staff, told senators Thursday that the money would be the last sum Kansas would be asked to contribute to NBAF, whose cost has escalated from an initial estimate of $500 million several years ago to $1.15 billion. Much of the increase stems from design improvements, though inflation also has contributed. Mr. Fulmer also said the money represents the state’s share of NBAF, as per a 2009 agreement under which the federal government would pay 80 percent of the costs and the state would pay 20 percent.
But given the $105 million in bonds the state already has issued and $35 million from the Kansas Bioscience Authority, the additional $202 million would bring the state’s contribution to about $340 million, closer to 30 percent than 20 percent of $1.15 billion.
Our hope is that after lawmakers get their objections out of their systems, they will recognize and further appreciate the long-term benefits NBAF will bring to the state.
As the center of research into zoonotic disease, NBAF will become a magnet attracting some of the best minds in the world to the Little Apple, some to work at the federal facility and others to work at private biotechnology companies that open here to be associated with NBAF.
And that is just part of the $3.5 billion economic impact that NBAF is projected to have over its first 20 years of operation.
All that might not make approving $202 million in bonds automatic for frugal lawmakers, but it’s hard to imagine them letting such a monumental project like NBAF slip away.