Topeka Staff members of the Kansas Bioscience Authority faced some questioning by state senators over their salaries and building expense.
Members of the Senate's Commerce Committee on Tuesday demanded the staff salary breakdown and an accounting of building costs for its Olathe offices from KBA president and CEO Tom Thornton. The demand came in the wake of recent comments by a group of Wichita scientists that the authority is backing away from a promise to give it $20 million over five years.
KBA countered that its board of directors has not approved a $20 million commitment to the group working on medical implants.
The Legislature created the KBA in 2004 to collect tax money from the health care industry and use it to finance startup bioscience operations.
"We want to make sure they are using taxpayer dollars wisely, state Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, told The Wichita Eagle after the hearing.
She is concerned that KBA is spending $10.8 million to build its office, a cost she calculated at $278 per square foot.
"Nowhere did I see where they were authorized to use the money for bricks and mortar," she said.
Thornton told lawmakers he would get back to them with the information they requested.
"I think the Kansas taxpayer, in times like this, when we're very short on money, we want every agency accountable for every dime spent," Wagle said.
Thornton told the committee that for each $1 invested in the authority, $9.41 has been returned in the form of jobs and capital expenditures. He also said Kansas ranks fifth in the nation for biotechnology.
KBA told the Eagle that staff salaries total just more than $2 million a year. Thornton earns $264,000 a year and is eligible for a performance bonus. Other staff salaries range from $42,800 to $175,000.
The KBA has been criticized by the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research, or CIBOR. Its chief scientist, Paul Wooley, has said the full $20 million commitment is vital for the group's future.
KBA recently announced it was giving CIBOR another $1.5 million on top of about $4 million it has given the group since 2009.