Manhattan lab's future at risk, Kan. leaders remain optimistic.
By John Milburn
TOPEKA - The looming fiscal cliff and recent demotions in the Kansas
congressional delegation shouldn't weaken support for a new federal
$1.15 billion animal research lab in Manhattan, state officials say.
Funding for the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility has been slowed
in recent years by tight federal funding sources and ongoing reviews of
the laboratory's size, scope and risk. The Department of Homeland
Security facility is designed to replace an aging animal research lab at
Plum Island, N.Y., with the capability to research deadly animal
diseases such as foot and mouth that affect livestock.
But new pressures have emerged. The deadline for avoiding massive
increases in federal taxes and mandatory spending reductions has
prompted concerns that the nation can't afford to build the facility.
"The environment for getting NBAF funded is getting more and more
difficult," said Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence
A vocal critic of the project has been New York Rep. Tim Bishop, a
Democrat who represents Long Island. He said the fiscal cliff should be
reason enough to kill the project.
"I hope that it does," he said. "If we are going to impose statutory
caps on discretionary spending, then I think we should eliminate funding
for NBAF entirely. We do not need it, we cannot afford it and the
National Academy of Sciences has said it is a poor idea to build it
where it is proposed."
He said he has written to the Office of Management and Budget urging
that the president's 2014 budget "not include funding for NBAF."
Last week, 1st District Rep. Tim Huelskamp had two plum committee
assignments stripped by House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP Steering
Committee. Huelskamp, a conservative Republican who represents much of
western and central Kansas, lost his seats on the House Budget and
Agriculture committees for what he described as "petty and vindictive"
politics because he voted his conscious and district on a number of
Kansas has had a member on the agriculture committee since statehood in 1861.
Huelskamp said he didn't believe his demotion would darken the project's future.
As a result of redistricting this summer, the 1st District now includes
Riley County and Manhattan. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Topeka Republican,
previously represented the area since being elected to the 2nd District
"We've never given up our support for NBAF. The folks in Riley County
can't vote for me anymore but I can still vote for them. We are going to
continue do everything we can to keep that on track," Jenkins said.
She said she was in contact with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on a
regular basis about the project and will continue to "dog the issue."
"Public safety should be the primary focus of the government and that's certainly what that project does," Jenkins said.
Sen. Pat Roberts, the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture
Committee, has been among the staunchest supporter for NBAF. He
frequently refers to it as a key piece in the nation's security policy,
especially as it relates to the economy and food supply.
"NBAF will remain a top national security priority for the nation
because the threat to our nation's plant and animal health remains,"
Roberts said. "It is impossible to predict what will happen to our
nation should we find ourselves at the bottom of the fiscal cliff and
budget sequesters take effect. At this point, all we can do is what we
have always done: work to see that a laboratory to address these threats
is built and is built in Kansas."
A report this summer from the National Research Council gave DHS options
to consider in moving forward with its plans, ranging from moving
forward with the same size and scope of operation to scaling back the
project and disbursing the research at existing labs across the country.
State officials had actively promoted northeast Kansas as a potential
site for the lab, seeing it as crucial to efforts to create a strong
biosciences industry and create more than 300 jobs that would pay an
average of more than $75,000 a year. The state is committed to issuing
up to $105 million in bonds to help with the project.
One option for Kansas would be for the state to pick up a greater share
of the cost of the project, said Sen. Terry Bruce, who will take over as
majority leader of the Kansas Senate in January.
The Hutchinson attorney said it could be possible for the state to find
other funding sources to replace reduced federal funds, such as issuing
bonds while interest rates are low, seeing it as an investment in
agriculture and high-tech research jobs for generations.
"You might be able to get a long-term lease where the payments cover
your bond and interest payments," Bruce said. "That would be a best-case
Legislators haven't openly discussed such a proposal and doing so may be
difficult in 2013 with the state facing a projected budget shortfall of
nearly $328 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
Frank Eltman contributed to the report from Long Island, N.Y.