Topeka Democratic legislative leaders on Friday accused Gov. Sam Brownback of trying to take over the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
“It is nothing more than a blatant power grab,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.
“The administration wants to undermine the Bioscience Authority, and it couldn’t come at a worse time,” Hensley said.
He said Brownback, a Republican, was behind hearings by Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, over salaries for the KBA’s president and chief executive officer Tom Thornton and other employees.
Hensley described Wagle’s probe as a “witch hunt.”
Hensley said Brownback was also behind a Senate bill that would place his Cabinet officials in charge of the KBA.
“It’s an independent group that shouldn’t be under the thumb of the governor,” he said.
Asked whether he was trying to take over the KBA, Brownback said, “That’s not true. I have plenty of my own problems to deal with.”
But Brownback indicated support for Wagle’s hearings.
“I always think hearings are a helpful thing,” he said.
The KBA, formed in 2004, is responsible for investing $581 million in state revenue to increase the bioscience industry in Kansas.
Sen. Wagle has criticized the size of Thornton’s salary and expenses. His annual salary is $265,000, and he received a $100,000 bonus last year. Another $43,000 is spent on insurance and retirement benefits.
But Thornton’s supporters say his salary is in line with officials running similar enterprises.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said Thornton’s leadership was a big factor in Kansas winning a national competition to get the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which is to be built in Manhattan.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, praised both the KBA and Thornton. Morris said he had 100 percent confidence in Thornton.