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Financial concerns about planned spaceport
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service


December 16, 2005
Friday AM

SANTA FE, N.M. - State lawmakers who support the planned spaceport in southern New Mexico say they want more information about the cost and who will pay it.

The $225 million project in Sierra County could be among the larger undertakings before the Legislature in January during the 30-day session to craft a budget.

"I haven't seen any kind of a financial presentation," said House GOP leader Ted Hobbs. The Albuquerque lawmaker says he supports the spaceport anyway.

"All I know is what I read from you all," he said, referring to the media.

On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, and British billionaire Richard Branson announced a deal to locate the headquarters of Branson's Virgin Galactic at the spaceport.



The company plans to send some 50,000 tourists into suborbital space in the first 10 years of operation.

"This has been my dream and it will come true for me, just like it will come true for many of you," Branson said at a news conference in Santa Fe.

Virgin Galactic predicts that flights from the Southwest Regional Spaceport north of Las Cruces could start as early as 2009.

The company said that 40,000 people from 120 countries have registered for flights, which would reach 400,000 feet and allow passengers to experience weightlessness.

It plans to develop SpaceShip Two, the spacecraft that would take private citizens into space.

But along with the ship, a big chunk of the financing for the spaceport project is still in development.

To pay for the port, an idea that has been kicked around for 15 years, Richardson will ask lawmakers for $100 million in capital outlay money to build port infrastructure. The state is expected to have about $1 billion in capital outlay money to spend next year.

The state also could put $35 million, including some state transportation funds, into the project.

The remaining $90 million would come from the federal government and cities and counties in the southern part of the state.

No port funding is currently pending before Congress.

As for the local government share, supporters are proposing a local option gross receipts tax dedicated to the project, which would need voter approval.

Senate GOP whip Leonard Lee Rawson, who represents the area proposed for the spaceport, says he thinks there will be support for the capital outlay expenditure, but he wants to know more about any possible gross receipts tax for the endeavor.

"At first blush, I don't think that's the prudent way to do it," said Rawson, of Las Cruces. He has been in touch with Richardson about the spaceport.

Rawson's concern centers on the idea that certain taxpayers would foot the bill for something that would bring revenue to the whole state. He also worried that the state is committed to the project but that voters could reject a tax proposal.

Dona Ana County Commission spokesman Jess Williams said he hasn't heard anyone talk about a tax to pay for the port.

"I can tell you it hasn't come up at our commission meetings," he said.

At the news conference, however, a Sierra County commissioner and the mayor of Las Cruces spoke on behalf of the spaceport and the jobs it is expected to bring.

Richardson lauded the project as something that will change the state.

"This investment in economic development and high-wage jobs will create a new industry that will transform the economy in southern New Mexico," Richardson said.

Proponents also released two studies of the economic impact the port could have.

A New Mexico State University study predicts that within five years of operation, port-related spending could reach $1 billion and payroll connected to the port could be $300 million to some 2,300 people.

Another study, by Futron, an aerospace industry consulting firm, showed that the port by 2020 could bring some $750 million in annual revenue to the state.

About 3,500 people could have port- and space-related jobs, according to the firm.


Contact Kate Nash of The Tribune in Albuquerque, N.M., at
Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service.

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