The Kansas Senate approved an additional $202 million in bonds for construction of the new federal biodefense lab in Manhattan on Wednesday, despite concerns by conservative Republicans about whether the state could afford it.
Gov. Sam Brownback maintains that the bonds will complete the state's financial obligation to the federal government to build the $1 billion National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility at Kansas State University. But some of his fellow Republicans aren't convinced.
"This is not the best direction for Kansas," Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republicans, said before voting against the legislation.
The Senate's 32-8 vote approving the plan moves it to the House, where leaders want to tuck the measure into the final version of the next state budget, which is being drafted by negotiators for the two chambers.
The lab, slated to conduct research dangerous animal diseases, will replace an aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y. Construction has already started, though the lab's projected cost has more than doubled to $1.15 billion since Kansas landed it in 2009.
Sen. Jeff Melcher, a Leawood Republican, said there was too little information provided about the additional investment to warrant supporting the bonding bill.
"Prior legislatures have approved the process for spending for this facility," Melcher said. "The problem I have is we haven't had any presentation on what the payoff for this investment will be."
Kansas has already authorized $105 million in bonds to help finance the project. State officials expect the lab to create more than 300 new jobs averaging more than $75,000 in salary and benefits.
President Barack Obama's latest budget proposal includes $714 million for the project.
Brownback's administration has noted that Kansas committed to covering part of the costs when it was competing with Texas and several other states for the project. Amid resistance in Congress to funding the project, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security redesigned the lab to lessen chances it would release a deadly animal disease, but that dramatically increased the cost.
Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said lab would be a magnet to attract new business investment to Kansas and for Kansas State University. She said the state had made significant investments into developing the biosciences industry, with some more successful than others.
The project, she said, "fits in the portfolio that the state has created."
Construction has begun on a central utility plant that will support the new lab. Construction on the main laboratory facility is expected to begin in 2014, pending approval of federal funds. The Department of Homeland Security has not published a date for certifying the lab and beginning operations, but Kansas State officials have hoped that it would be by 2018.