House moves to send Kansas Bioscience Authority funding directly to CIBOR, NIAR, other projects

The state House stripped the Kansas Bioscience Authority of control of roughly half its state funding during budget deliberations Thursday. It opted instead to send the money directly to state bioscience projects, including two in Wichita.

The 2012 budget has yet to be finalized.

“I really like what we set the bioscience authority up to do. But since then, it has changed,” said Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire. “It’s my belief that the centers of excellence and innovation have been underfunded by the very entity we created to fund them.”

He moved to take $16 million of the authority’s state money and give it to the eight centers at state universities. Each would get $2 million, including the two in Wichita, the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) and the Center for Innovation in Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research (CIBOR). A bioscience development and investment fund was created to facilitate the move.

Brunk said CIBOR was promised $1.5 million from the KBA in January, but has yet to receive the money. He said lucrative grants that would stimulate economic growth in Wichita are being kept on hold while CIBOR waits for the money from the KBA.

The KBA is a public-private entity that uses grants to attract high-tech biological research companies to the state.

Scientists at CIBOR, which is working to find medical uses for composite materials developed for the aircraft industry, have complained they have been shortchanged by the KBA.

Lawmakers have said the KBA promised CIBOR $20 million over five years; the agency has said it didn’t commit to any funding beyond a first-year grant of $4 million.

Brunk pointed out that the KBA committed $40 million last year to venture capital interests outside of Kansas.

The agency also has been criticized by lawmakers this year for its salaries — 12 of 21 employees earn more than $100,000 —and for sizable salary increases and bonuses at a time when the state is cutting back.

Also Thursday, the House dropped the cap on the state’s allocation to KBA from $35 million to $33.6 million. That freed up $1.4 million in the state budget to prevent a cut in parole officers in the Department of Corrections.

Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, told lawmakers that the KBA had $89 million in cash on hand at the end of 2010. She pointed to interest earned and the success of the KBA’s investments as evidence that it can afford a cut.

“The KBA is doing very well, and considering the state of the economy, I think it’s reasonable to take the money from them to make sure we have parole officers,” Colloton said.

Colloton said the state stood to lose 40 parole officers without the shift.

“This is a very important public safety issue,” Colloton said. “If we don’t give paroles adequate supervision during re-entry, they more frequently end up going back to prison.”

The vote could have a significant effect on Wichita, which attracts many parolees.

“I know our Sedgwick County corrections program does an exemplary job of having programming in place, including work release, to help the parolees,” said Rep. Melody McCray-Miller, D-Park City. “So the people are getting not only the punitive part of their sentence, but they are also being the rehabilitation that they need to return to our community.”

–Todd Fertig