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Obama proposes $714M for Kansas biodefense project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- President Barack Obama's budget proposal sent to Congress on Wednesday includes $714 million to build a new federal biosecurity lab in Kansas, the largest proposed federal expenditure for the project to date.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said the recommendation signals the administration's support for building the $1.15 billion lab, which will study large animal diseases and develop measures to protect the nation's food supply.

"After almost a decade of work by a whole bunch of folks, this is certainly good news," Roberts said. "We're not there yet, but it's a milestone."

The Department of Homeland Security would build the lab at Kansas State University to replace a facility at Plum Island, N.Y.

The recommendation comes amid federal budget debates over reducing the nation's spending levels and controlling debt, which had prompted some discussion about scaling back the project's size and scope or possibly keeping the current research lab in New York.

Roberts said spending and debt issues haven't changed, nor have federal across-the-board cuts of some $85 billion, but he was confident the administration was behind getting the new lab built.

"What has changed is the commitment to get the lab done. The administration is finally coming across," said Roberts, who was to speak with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano later Wednesday.

Roberts said the proposal will require additional financial commitments from Kansas, which will be worked out by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators.

State officials have long 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 well-paying jobs. The state has said it's committed to issuing up to $105 million in bonds to help with the project.