It’s good that the Kansas Bioscience Authority president and CEO sees “a marked improvement” in the agency’s relationship with Kansas legislators, but the KBA obviously has a ways to go to return to the original vision for the agency to foster expansion of the bioscience industry in Kansas without political interference.
For a few years after the KBA was established in 2004, it did a pretty good job of operating outside the political arena to promote business across the state. A share of state income taxes was designated for use by the KBA, which then was free to use that money as it saw fit.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Kansas governors and other officials to try to tap into KBA funds and alter the makeup of the KBA board to achieve their own goals for the state. A period marked by the questionable leadership of President and CEO Tom Thornton also undermined the KBA’s progress and reputation.
The new KBA leader, Duane Cantrell, told his board last week that he would be giving top priority to meeting with legislative leaders and other groups to tell them about the changing culture at KBA. He emphasized a shift from an “entitlement” mentality to one that recognizes the need to earn state support. He also said the KBA would be focusing on investments that produce financial returns for the state rather than just doling out state money in the form of grants to developing businesses.
Those are positive changes that likely will be a matter of financial necessity if Gov. Sam Brownback’s funding recommendations for the KBA become part of the state budget. In his initial budget recommendation in January, Brownback slashed KBA funding from $35 million for the current year to $10 million next year to help balance the rest of his budget following large income tax cuts approved last year. He said it would be a one-year reduction, but that remains to be seen.
On Monday, Brownback announced he would recommend trimming another $1.15 million this year from the KBA budget and about $750,000 in subsequent years to fund the establishment and operation of the new Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center at Kansas University Medical Center. The center, which is tied to an anti-abortion agenda, was created by legislation this year, but has no funding. Rather than depending on the KBA board to recommend funding for the center, Brownback has chosen simply to subtract that money from the KBA budget and direct it to his own political goal.
If the governor’s recommendations are accepted, KBA will receive less than $9 million next year, about 26 percent of its current funding. With or without a culture change, that kind of budget reduction will seriously hamper the agency’s ability to pursue its mission.
As noted above, the legislation that created the KBA envisioned an agency that could work outside the political arena to promote bioscience development in Kansas. It’s unfortunate to see that vision slipping away.