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Kansas Bioscience Authority Inches Toward Privatization

Courtesy photo

The Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony this week on a bill that would essentially sever financial ties between the state and the Kansas Bioscience Authority, according to the committee's vice chairman  Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park. 

“It’s unwinding it from any state influence and further state funding,” Denning says.

Senate Bill 474 would hand over authority of the KBA to the State Finance Council, which is chaired by the governor and legislative leaders. The council would then oversee any sale of the KBA.

In January, Gov. Sam Brownback proposed liquidating the assets of the KBA to partially plug the states multimillion-dollar revenue shortfall.

In December, the KBA board of directors voted to become a private entity,  a move that requires an act of the Legislature.

The pending legislation is projected to provide a one-time contribution to the state of $25 million, but the bill does not include language requiring any minimum reimbursement by the KBA to the state.

“We’re gonna get $25 million lump sum payment and the relationship will be severed at that time,” Denning says.

The KBA is a quasi-governmental agency created by the Economic Growth Act of 2004. The bill aimed to grow the bioscience industry in Kansas by funding research, marketing and commercialization of bioscience products.

State taxes from newly created bioscience companies and jobs, as well as university research, were to provide the funds, using tax increment financing to establish “bioscience development districts.”

But the KBA never lived up to its economic development or job creating promises.

“The type of investments they were making didn’t bring jobs to Kansas,” Denning says. “They were more like jobs based on favors.”

In the hopes of improving performance, new leadership at the KBA in 2013 decided to embrace a more market-oriented, venture capital approach.

But expenses have continued to outpace revenues, according to the KBA’s financial audits.

Denning says Senate Bill 474 should be sent to the full Senate by early next week.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. She can be reached at lauraz@kcur.org or on twitter @laurazig

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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