Topeka In past years, elected officials in Kansas have been nearly unanimous in support of the proposed $1.15 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to be located near Kansas State University in Manhattan.
On Thursday, several members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee voiced concerns about the cost and safety of NBAF, a federal biosecurity lab that will conduct research on deadly animal diseases and develop measures to protect the nation's food supply.
Their questions are coming as the federal government seeks a much larger commitment from the state for funds to help build the project.
President Barack Obama has proposed $714 million in federal funds in his budget for construction of NBAF. But the state is being asked to come up with $307 million, which is $202 million more than what Kansas already has approved.
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed that the state borrow $202 million in bonds to provide the additional funding.
Brownback's chief of staff, Landon Fulmer, urged Ways and Means to approve the deal, but he got pushback from several Republican senators. The committee took no action.
State Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said he was concerned about the risk of a pathogen release. "What if?," Abrams asked. "We're in the middle of cattle country. This whole thing just really concerns me greatly," he said.
Fulmer said the proposed facility would be able to withstand a truck bomb or F5 tornado. He said it would be more dangerous not to have the facility to protect the nation's food supply.
Other senators said they were concerned about the escalating cost of the project, which originally was estimated at $450 million, and whether the state could be forced to pay more for the project because of federal government budget problems.
State Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said under the original proposal the state was responsible for land acquisition. "Now, we're engaged in building the darn thing," he said. He said he feared "Kansas would be on the hook for significant" expenses as the federal government grapples with budget problems.
And without resolution of the state budget and proposed tax cuts, Denning said to Fulmer, "You're asking us to do something really risky."
Retiring the bonds will cost the state approximately $15 million per year, Fulmer said.
Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, said the increased cost of NBAF "makes me extremely nervous."
And Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, said that while the increase in state bonding represented a proportional increase related to the escalating cost of the project, it had a much greater impact on the state budget than the much larger federal budget.
"Can't we get a better deal?" Fitzgerald asked.