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Kan. Dems say they lack enough details on NBAF

By JOHN HANNA

AP Political Writer

TOPEKA -- Democratic leaders in the Kansas Legislature said Tuesday that they're not getting enough information from Republican Sam Brownback yet to justify authorizing another $202 million in bonds for a national biodefense lab.

The criticism from Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence came less than two weeks after GOP conservatives on the Senate Ways and Means Committee questioned Brownback's latest proposal for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. The full Legislature reconvenes Wednesday after a monthlong spring break to wrap up their business for the year and must decide whether to authorize the NBAF bonds.

The new, $1.15 billion biosecurity lab at Kansas State University would research dangerous animal diseases and ways to protect the nation's food supply, replacing an aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y. President Barack Obama's latest proposed federal budget contains $714 million for the lab's construction.

Kansas already has issued $105 million in bonds for the lab, and Brownback's administration has said the new bonds will fulfill the state's obligation for financing a share of the construction under a 2009 agreement with federal officials. Multiple states aggressively pursued the new lab because it promised to bring more than 300 high-paying jobs to the winning area.

Hensley and Davis were careful during a joint news conference to stress that they still strongly support the biodefense lab's construction.

But Davis added, "The administration, I think, needs to be a little more forthcoming about what discussions have been had with the federal government and what deals have been made, what obligations they believe we have."

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said while legislators have a responsibility to ask questions so they fully understand NBAF, the project is "a long-standing partnership" between the state and federal governments.

The governor has said additional bonds are necessary because NBAF's projected costs rose dramatically as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security redesigned the lab to lessen chances of releasing a deadly animal disease.

"The NBAF is vital to the security of our country's food supply, the health of our livestock industry and growing our state's economy," Jones-Sontag said in an email statement. "The request for an additional $202 million in bonding is significant but it's the right thing to do."

Last month, when Landon Fulmer, the governor's chief of staff, presented the proposal to the Senate committee, conservative Republican members peppered him with questions, including whether Kansas could negotiate a better deal with federal officials.

Afterward, Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the committee's ranking Democrat, still predicted the new bonds would be approved easily because no legislator wants "to throw a roadblock in front of NBAF" and because economic growth in the Manhattan area will generate enough new tax revenues for the state to offset the cost of the bonds.

However, Hensley said Tuesday: "The Legislature really hasn't been brought into the loop."

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Online:

Kansas governor: https://governor.ks.gov/

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at http://twitter.com/apjdhanna