By Barry Massey
SANTA FE — The House approved a measure to help finance a proposed spaceport in southern New Mexico, a project that one lawmaker called a “risk of unprecedented proportion” for the state.
The bill passed Wednesday allows for local governments to impose a local option gross receipts tax levy to provide money for development of the $225 million spaceport proposed by Gov. Bill Richardson.
Counties and municipalities would be authorized — with voter approval — to raise gross receipts taxes by amounts ranging from one-sixteenth of a cent to one-half of a cent.
The measure cleared the House on a 42-14 vote and goes to the Senate, which has approved an identical bill.
The Richardson administration sees the spaceport as the start of a new space industry in New Mexico.
British tycoon Richard Branson says his company, Virgin Galactic, would put its headquarters at the facility and launch tourists on suborbital flights from the site.
Local financing is necessary under Richardson’s plan for the spaceport.
The governor wants a $135 million commitment from the state: $100 million over the next three years from capital improvement money, $25 million this year from a proposed road program and $10 million already appropriated for spaceport-related projects.
The other $90 million would come from a mix of federal and local funds.
The House approved a separate bill Wednesday that allocates the $25 million for road and transportation improvements related to the spaceport.
However, a lawmaker from southern New Mexico said the administration needed solid commitments for private industry investment in the project before the state starts spending millions in public money.
“I think the spaceport is probably a risk of unprecedented proportion undertaken by a state and we should be willing to take those risks, but so should the private sector,” said Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.
His comments came as the House debated a proposed transportation financing measure that allocated $25 million for roads and other work related to the spaceport.
Cervantes said the state needed “assurances that this money will not just be roads, and drainage and holes in the ground in the middle of the desert.”