GOP leaders want to preserve eco devo agency

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Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 1:05 am

John Hanna

Associated Press Writer

TOPEKA (AP) — Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ plan to fold a state agency that nurtures high-tech businesses into the Department of Commerce hasn’t gotten much traction with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Sebelius has tried to push legislators into considering her proposal seriously by vetoing all funding for the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. She argues that her reorganization plan would save the state money and make economic development programs more efficient.

But GOP leaders said Tuesday that they’ll try to preserve the agency and worry Sebelius’ plan would hurt efforts to revive Kansas’ economy.

Republicans said they aren’t sure how they will respond to Sebelius’ action Monday on a $13 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. She signed the budget but vetoed a section authorizing $12.1 million in spending for the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp., most of it financed by Lottery profits.

“It’s the kind of organization that we need to help us come out of this economic slump,” said Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican. “I think it’s been effective as a stand-alone agency.”

Sebelius questions the agency’s effectiveness in nurturing new businesses, and her staff estimates that the state could save $3.2 million if the Commerce Department absorbs its programs.

She has proposed folding both the technology agency and Kansas Inc., the state’s economic development research agency, into the Commerce Department. However, she did not touch the $515,000 budget legislators approved for Kansas Inc.

A bill to fold both agencies into the department is before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, as is one moving only the technology agency’s programs into the department. The committee hasn’t voted on either.

If Sebelius’ veto stood, the technology corporation would suspend operations for at least a year, starting July 1. Legislators could attempt to override her veto or try to draft a new budget for the agency with conditions attached.

Legislators are taking their annual spring break and reconvene April 29 to wrap up the year’s business.

“The governor took this action so the Legislature can have time to adequately evaluate KTEC’s performance,” said Sebelius spokeswoman Beth Martino.

The state created the agency in 1987, expecting it to develop high-technology companies and high-paying jobs by forming partnerships with universities and private groups. The agency is governed by a 20-member board that includes the Kansas secretaries of commerce and agriculture, 10 other appointees of the governor and eight appointees of legislative leaders.

The agency works with partners in “incubators” to help entrepreneurs. It also provides seed capital directly and has about $9.1 million in investments in 48 companies.

It survived similar efforts to fold it into the Commerce Department in 2000 and 2001.

The agency estimates its efforts have created almost 17,000 jobs and $1.9 billion in new sales revenues. Tracy Taylor, the agency’s president and CEO, said such efforts are vital.

Some legislators worry its programs would get lost in the department, which has a $119 million budget. Others say the technology corporation is meant to operate more like a business partnership than a government agency.

“I really challenge the notion that you can take KTEC and stuff it into a bureaucratic agency,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican. “They’re different beasts.”

But Martino noted a legislative audit in August questioned the overall effectiveness of the state’s economic development efforts, saying their effect on job growth was “small but statistically measurable.”

Earlier this month, a 120-page evaluation of the technology corporation for Kansas Inc. suggested the agency could be more focused on fewer “unique techology clusters.”

But the same report questioned folding the agency into another one. Doing so — or eliminating its programs altogether — would put Kansas at “the back of the technology pack for many years to come,” it said.

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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1 comment:

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