Inside the Capitol

Monday, January 23, 2006

2-1 Rocket Racing League

WED, 2-1-06

SANTA FE -- Hang onto your seats. Star wars is coming to New Mexico. During the state Legislature's opening week, the third star in New Mexico's triple crown of space events was unveiled.
Not only will southern New Mexico be hosting rocket races into space for the X Prize Cup, it also will host rocket-powered airplanes zooming around a course at the Las Cruces airport.
The newly-forming Rocket Racing League will conduct races around the nation, similar to NASCAR, with the finals being held in New Mexico. The league headquarters also will be in Las Cruces, in a planned 50,000 square-foot building, and will employ up to 200 people.
One rocket plane design already has been developed. It was demonstrated at the first annual X Prize extravaganza in Las Cruces last October by former shuttle pilot Rick Searfoss, who has agreed to fly in the new league.
Also competing in the league will be Erik Lindbergh, a grandson of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, and an X Prize board member.
The rocket planes, which will be called X-Racers, will race at 350 miles an hour around a course a half mile wide and two miles long at the Las Cruces airport. While racing, they also will be dodging huge virtual obstacles and diving through virtual tunnels.
The film, showed by league CEO Granger Whitelaw to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, looked much like a rocket racing scene out of Star Wars. Whitelaw is a venture capitalist who has been involved with two championship Indy Racing League teams.
Whitelaw has been involved with X Prize founder Peter Diamandis since the beginning of that competition. And Diamandis is a co-founder of the Rocket Racing League.
Whitelaw also had many good things to say about Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, which is trying to convince the New Mexico Legislature to build a $225 million spaceport north of Las Cruces.
Whitelaw says his decision to locate the league headquarters and championship finals in New Mexico is contingent upon New Mexico building the Southwest Regional Spaceport, which he can then use for design and testing of his rocket planes.
Considering that Branson is using the space plane design of Burt Rutan, the $10 million Ansari X Prize winner, the interwoven relationship of the Rocket Racing League, Virgin Galactic and the X Prize Cup becomes very evident. It makes New Mexico the rocket capital of the world.
Planners predict the X-Racers will bring hundreds of thousands of people to New Mexico for the finals. Apparently they expect the league to quickly become the NASCAR of the sky.
And they expect it to bring numbers to New Mexico similar to what NASCAR brings to Charlotte, North Carolina. That's dreaming pretty big. Las Cruces will have to build about a thousand motels pronto.
How likely is the RRL to get off the ground? It's being financed by venture capital money, which means investors aren't rushing to buy stock. If it can piggyback on the success and excitement the X Prize competition and Virgin Galactic already have produced, it might have a chance.
When the X Prize organizers announced in the summer of 2004 that they were bringing their competition to New Mexico and that the first of the X Prize awards, for the first rocket to fly 62 miles into space twice in a week, would be won before the summer was over, few people believed it possible. But it happened.
When Richard Branson announced he would fly people into space for $200,000 a crack, not even the experts believed he would find enough takers to make the project viable. He now has 45,000 adventurous souls signed up.
The RRL plans to begin soliciting sponsorships for its racers soon. It also plans to generate revenue through merchandizing, broadcast rights, video games, ticket sales and tours.
We may soon know how much interest there will be.


Friday, January 20, 2006

1-30 Adventures in Lobbying, Part 2

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE � In my previous column, Santa Fe lobbyist Gary Kilpatric and I described the possible adventures of a first-time citizen lobbyist at the New Mexico Legislature.
It was a somewhat worst-case scenario, but we wanted everyone to understand that it isn�t normally as smooth an operation as it is usually described.
Our mythical lobbyist arrived at the Capitol in a snow storm and had to park halfway to Espanola. When he finally got inside the Round House, all legislators were in party caucuses. From there they went straight to the floor for a joint session and then into committee hearings. And things didn�t go well with the one lawmaker our citizen-lobbyist was able to talk with on the way to the committee hearing.
Adventure #7. We join our lobbyist as the committee finally assembles, long after the scheduled time. The good news is that your bill is first on the agenda. Unfortunately, however, an influential legislator has prevailed on the committee chairman to put his little non-controversial bill on first. And it turns out to be 100 pages long.
Adventure #8. After sitting several hours as each line of the bill is read, analyzed, debated and amended, you just have to take a restroom break. That�s exactly when the vote is taken and the chairman announces your bill is next.
Adventure #9. As you begin to testify, you realize the room full of sweet, little old ladies you thought were showing their grandchildren through the Capitol are actually there to testify against your bill.
Adventure #10. As you continue your testimony, you notice members of the audience and members of the committee are continuously coming and going from the committee room, whispering among themselves and passing notes. Someone opens the door to the committee room, sees it is only you talking and leaves, letting the door slam loudly behind him.
Adventure #11. Your testimony is followed by that of a distinguished gentleman, whom the committee obviously respects. He states that the concept of your bill is great, but that because of technical problems he will have to strenuously oppose it.
Adventure #12. Then a committee member says he has a friendly little amendment � to strike all the language after the title.
Adventure #13. That amendment dies, but when it comes time to vote, some of the committee members supporting your bill leave the room for another meeting, while the committee members opposing your bill suddenly reappear.
Adventure #14. Miraculously, your bill passes and you head to the nearest watering hole to celebrate. But a few hours later someone informs you that your bill was reconsidered later and killed.
Adventure #15. You throw on your coat and run back to the Capitol, knowing full well that you shouldn�t have left your poor little bill alone with all those legislators and lobbyists. Once there you learn your bill was only tabled and you immediately begin organizing your supporters to pull the bill from the table when the right committee members are present.
Adventure #16. By this time, it is late at night and the committee decides to adjourn. You�ve done what you can for the day and you didn�t plan to stay tomorrow. But you must. You never realized how long and hard legislators work and how many people are at the Capitol trying to get their ear, just as you are.
Adventure #17. You learn that no matter what happens to your bill tomorrow, there still are ways to try to revive it. The process is never easy, but for those willing to work hard, it can be successful. It also is fun and energizing to see democracy in action.
All of this will never happen to you in one day, the good or the bad. But the process of legislating and lobbying is grueling. Sometimes it is compared to flying an airplane � hours of boredom, punctuated by minutes of sheer terror. But we need people who enjoy doing it.
MON, 1-30-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)

I'll be out of the office next week. Reachable by email and possibly cell phone 505-699-9982. I don't expect to miss any columns.

1-27 Adventures in Lobbying, Part 1

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE � Many years ago, I wrote a column containing tips for aspiring lobbyists. It wasn�t your normal �How a Bill Becomes a Law� piece, extolling the joys of becoming a citizen lobbyist for a day.
It was more an attempt to prepare first-time lobbyists for the realities of what they are likely to face when they come to Santa Fe to present their case to New Mexico lawmakers.
And maybe it served as a vehicle to provide some laughs for those who had been through their first experience and had confronted the harsh reality that things never go quite the same as the instruction sheet told them they would.
OK, so maybe my advice overstated the case a little. That�s what one of Santa Fe�s top lobbyists, Gary Kilpatric, thought after he read a reprint of my column in the New Mexico Business Weekly seven years ago.
But he liked the idea of injecting some humor and a moderate dose of reality into the training session he conducts for the state Association of Commerce and Industry every year at the beginning of the Legislature.
So Kilpatric revised my �Lessons Learned Lobbying in Santa Fe� into a presentation he thought might provide a little more accurate picture of the adventures a citizen might expect upon a first attempt at conquering the New Mexico Legislature.
Kilpatric emphasizes that most of those who try their hand at lobbying find themselves captivated by the process. He describes lobbying as an exciting and effective way to exercise your first amendment right.
After all, Kilpatric says, it can�t be so hard to buy a few lunches, schmooze in the halls, rub elbows with power brokers in the Bull Ring and then presenting a couple of minutes of razor-sharp testimony in committee.
But not so fast, he says. That�s the fantasy league of lobbying. Let�s look at what might be a �bad� day of lobbying.
Adventure #1. The very day you head to Santa Fe the Pineapple Express covers the state with a foot of snow, making your early arrival to get your bearings a forgotten dream.
Adventure #2. If you find a parking place within three blocks of the Capitol, it will have someone�s name on it, along with a sign describing the atrocities visited on those who dare to park there. You end up parking closer to Espanola than to the Round House.
Adventure #3. When you arrive at the Capitol, there is not a legislator in sight. The ones you want to see are in caucus. Then you learn that all the legislators are in caucus and everyone you see standing around is another lobbyist.
Adventure #4. As you walk around, you find there are many places you can�t go. There are signs all over saying �No mad dogs or lobbyists beyond this point.� And there are burly sergeants at arms everywhere who never heard of a Dale Carnegie course in public relations.
Adventure #5. The caucuses finally end and immediately all lawmakers go into a joint session for an endless floor debate on whether the state question should be �red or green� and you wonder �What am I doing here?� The debate continues so long that lawmakers stroll over to their snack bar at the edge of the chamber. And there goes your chance to take one to lunch.
Adventure #6. The session finally ends and you catch a legislator in the hallway before his committee hearing starts. You tell him why your bill is wonderful and ask him to vote for it. He asks who is lobbying on the other side and when you tell him, he explains that the guy was best man at his wedding and his first-born is named after him. Then he asks you to get together with the guy and reach a compromise. You do, and he says, �Sorry, buddy, try again next year.�
Next time we�ll explain what happens once the committee hearing begins.
FRI, 1-27-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, January 19, 2006

1-25 Spaceport Questions Answered

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico's spaceport won't be just for sending rich people into space, those passengers will be financing the dawn of a new era in space, says Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic.
The charge that New Mexico shouldn't be financing thrill rides for rich folks seems to rankle the Virgin Galactic officials more than any other objection to the spaceport.
High-paying passengers on the first commercial airplane flights were what got the airline industry off the ground. And that is exactly what the $200,000-a-pop passengers on the first commercial space flights will be doing.
Rich people will be paying for the technical development of commercial spacecraft rather than taxpayers. Roughly 45,000 have now signed up for the flights, 157 of those have paid the full $200,000. The rest have put down a $20,000 deposit.
Whitehorn says the eventual viability of the venture will depend on getting the cost down to about $50,000, which he says, is not unusual for adventure travel.
Climbing Mount Everest costs a lot more, he said, giving no indication he might be referring to a previous governor who put New Mexico's spaceport development on hold for eight years.
Any fears this column had that lawmakers would not fully explore the questions and risks involved before moving to approve the spaceport construction disappeared as lawmakers spent five hours on the second day of the session asking tough questions.
Many of those questions were ones that this column has posed in recent weeks. And they got good answers.
The reason abandoned air bases at Roswell and Clovis weren't considered is that the chosen site is much farther from population centers and because White Sands Missile Range, next door, is one of only two air spaces that are restricted "from earth to infinity." The other is the White House.
Virgin Galactic will not be paying the state just $1 million per year forever. After five years the payments will increase to the point New Mexico's construction costs will be paid off in 20 years.
The southern New Mexicans who will be helping pay for the spaceport through a gross receipts tax will be from any county or municipality that wants to become "a member of the spaceport team."
Legislation currently being drafted allows anywhere from a one-sixteenth to a one-half cent gross receipts tax to help pay for the spaceport. Twenty-five percent of that will remain in the community for spaceport-related activities.
As for safety, Virgin Galactic airplanes and railroads never have had a fatality and they will take the same care with their space program.
Their space plane will be launched from the air, dropping from a mother ship. NASA's problems have been due to ground launches. NASA preferred air launches, but abandoned the plan because ICBM rockets, which could do the job, already were available.
NASA would still like to get into air launches and is considering buying its astronauts seats on Virgin Galactic flights for training purposes.
Designer Burt Rutan has solved the reentry problems NASA has had by creating a feathering effect in the plane's design that allows it to float back into the atmosphere like a shuttlecock. The design corrects problems automatically, instead of having to do it manually or with computers.
The spaceship is made of a new carbon composite material that is far better than aluminum, which requires tile insulation because aluminum expands when it gets hot.
And SpaceShipTwo will be much more dependable because it has only 33 moving parts, compared with the shuttle's 400,000.
From listening to their questions, perhaps the greatest fear of lawmakers is not that the spaceships will crash, but that the business will, and New Mexico will look like a fool for getting involved in a venture with sky high ambitions and a stratospheric price tag.
Virgin responds that it has a strong business plan and is investing more in its spacecraft than New Mexico is in the spaceport
WED, 1-25-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

1-23 Opening Day at the Legislature

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- In what sounded like an opening day speech to a 60-day legislative session, Gov. Bill Richardson warned lawmakers to prepare for "relentless action."
New Mexico's 112 legislators knew this was going to be a busy session. The governor had joked for several weeks that this was going to be a 90-day session crammed into 30 days. During the week before the session began, he changed 90 days to 120 days.
That wasn't what lawmakers wanted to hear. All of them come to Santa Fe every year with something they want to accomplish. If the governor loads them up with time-consuming and expensive measures, little time or money is left for squeezing their own proposals on stage for a few minutes.
Gov. Richardson isn't the only one running for reelection this year. All 70 House seats also are up. And each of those incumbents would like to have something to take home and brag about.
So everyone will have to get down to business quickly and work very hard. That isn't bad, however, especially this year, when Congress has brought much criticism upon itself for accepting bribes.
Even Congress is talking about getting off to a roaring start. That is sure to happen with ethics legislation in an attempt to salvage a little of its reputation.
New Mexico also faces its own political scandal in the treasurer's office. Legislation to help prevent corrupt conduct by public officials is a sure thing.
But just when it will happen is another matter. Some legislative leaders are saying such a hot item should be delayed until next year's 60-day session.
The only subject that actually belongs in this short session is the state budget. Gov. Richardson barely even mentioned that subject in his opening address. Maybe, because the government is flush with oil and gas money this session, making a budget will be a snap.
But even though we suddenly have money for more than a 10 percent increase, everyone will have a reason for more than 10 percent going into their pet areas.
The competition will be even more fierce over dividing up almost a billion dollar increase in one-time spending. That money goes for special projects, such as capital construction.
Senate Republican leader Stuart Ingle, of Portales, says his constituents, who previously have come to him with $600,000 to $700,000 local needs, now are coming in with $6 million and $7 million requests.
The session got off to a smooth start with Gov. Richardson giving the most polished speech of his career. He was relaxed, animated, well-rehearsed and upbeat.
He hammered on the promises he had made and kept, sounding exactly like someone who is running for office again. And not only is he running, he must win by an impressive margin to remain a player on the national stage.
Republican leaders will do everything they can to knock Richardson off that stage. Erudite former state GOP chairman John Dendahl has found forums to criticize Richardson's every move. And he will be effective.
Another creative Republican maneuver was to stage a response to the governor's annual State of the State address, similar to what happens at the national level.
Republican gubernatorial candidate, J.R. Damron, reserved the rotunda of the Capitol to deliver a rebuttal to Richardson's speech. It wasn't an official Republican response since Dr. Damron, at this point, will have GOP primary election opposition from George Bailey, a school teacher and minister from Edgewood.
Damron's speech was mostly generalities and personal attacks, but he did get into some of Richardson's initiatives, such as his jet airplane purchase, the very expensive commuter rail project and the spaceport.
Republican legislative leaders are beginning to line up behind the spaceport, but it appears their gubernatorial candidate and their most articulate spokesperson, Dendahl, will fight it tooth and nail.
MON, 1-23-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, January 16, 2006

1-20 Reforming Government Corruption

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Expect to see significant reform legislation passed by the New Mexico Legislature and by Congress this year.
In the wake of scandal revelations involving public officials, lawmakers are scrambling to salvage what they can of government's already soiled reputation.
In New Mexico, it was Michael Montoya, the former state treasurer, who said, "That's the way business is done in New Mexico" when caught demanding payoffs from the people who invest the state's billions.
In Washington, Jack Abramoff was caught lavishly entertaining members of Congress, their staffs and a high-ranking Interior Department official in return for promises of help for his clients.
Without having to conduct any fancy polls, my barometer for judging public discontent is the number of e-mails I receive berating our government.
One of the more popular e-mails is one that lists some 280 crimes and other transgressions by the 535 members of Congress. Included among them are spousal abuse, fraud, writing bad checks, assault, drug charges, shoplifting, and drunk driving.
No names or dates are given, so we don't know if this covers just the present 109th Congress or if some of the previous 108 might also be included. One clue we have is that this piece has been circulating for quite a few years and few of the numbers change.
The e-mail also talks only about charges and accusations. It never mentions a conviction. Accusations are made against political candidates all the time. It may be surprising the numbers aren't higher.
Amazingly, the same thing is happening in other democracies where the email has been picked up and slightly modified to meet their situations.
Obviously our elected officials aren't all paragons of virtue. Their opponents told us that during their last election campaign. They probably aren't any more virtuous or corrupt than typical Americans.
What may be different is that they have more opportunities to be on the take than the average American. And that is the central concern of the Abramoff investigation. Is Abramoff just a bad apple or is the entire federal lobbying system corrupt?
It may depend on how many people Abramoff fingers and how many names turn up in the large amount of e-mails federal investigators are combing through.
To have been as successful in the lobbying business as he was, Abramoff has made some dumb mistakes. First, he bragged about his accomplishments. That catches a lot of criminals. Second, he put it all in writing. Unlike shredded paper, deleted e-mails do not disappear. Ask any Enron executive.
But Abramoff's dumbest mistake, visible to the entire world, was showing up for his first court appearance in Washington, looking like a crime boss in a blank trench coat and black fedora. Any public official who had hoped the guy might be able, in some way, to protect his coconspirators, had to give up all hope at that point.
This guy has totally lost it. Maybe it was part of his plea deal. "Yes, and we want you to walk into court looking exactly like The Godfather."
The next day he walked into court in Miami wearing a baseball hat embroidered with the emblem of Cascata, one of the world's most lavish golf resorts.
Abramoff could have gotten away with much of his lavish entertaining but he left too many tracks that he was conspiring with members of Congress for certain governmental actions in return for his largesse.
Are other federal lobbyists doing the same thing? The smart ones may be keeping it from us through weak laws and even weaker enforcement. Those laws will be in for a change this year.
In New Mexico, lobbyist reporting is more transparent. After every report, newspapers identify the big spenders, who are small change compared to their federal counterparts.
New Mexico's reform legislation will concentrate on statewide officials below the governor, who can operate autonomously, with very little notice -- as we have seen with the state treasurer.
WED, 1-20-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Saturday, January 14, 2006

1-18 State Races Shaping Up

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Several political races have changed dramatically since we last talked about the 2006 lineup of primary and general election contests.
With less than a month remaining before the Feb. 14 filing day for statewide and congressional candidates, nearly all races are beginning to firm up.
Gov. Bill Richardson, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman will have little to worry about. Neither will U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce and Tom Udall. All will have general election opposition because both parties figure it best to keep the incumbents busy so they don't spend too much time helping out other candidates.
The biggest race on the card will be in the 1st Congressional District, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson will be challenged by Democrat Attorney General Patricia Madrid. The race also will be watched closely on the national level and is sure to draw big bucks from out of state.
Democrats have always been able to find strong opponents for Wilson even though she keeps trouncing all comers. Madrid should be her best challenger yet. It's a fight that many in the political world have been itching to witness for years and it is sure to get extremely dirty.
How can Democrats control the Albuquerque mayor's office and yet never win the congressional seat? It's a question that has had the party fielding strong candidates in almost every election for the 34 years that the seat has existed.
This year, the race is seen as a possible bellwether to indicate whether congressional scandals and the war are likely to have an effect on Republican majorities in Congress. Look for more polling in that race than ever before.
Another heavy-duty race that has just shaped up is the contest for state land commissioner. The Democratic primary features two former two-term commissioners, Ray Powell, Jr. and Jim Baca. Baca's entry into the race appears to have scared out any small-timers who were considering a run.
The winner will go up against Republican incumbent Patrick Lyons. Regardless of Lyons' opponent, it will be the classic match up between agriculture and environmentalists, which usually are pretty close races.
Baca already is running against Lyons, complaining about his use of $150,000 of state money to feature himself in television ads.
Sometimes Lyons sounds more like the state school superintendent, talking about how he's doing it all for the children. Baca has turned that around and is accusing Lyons of using money that otherwise could have gone to school children.
The Democratic primary for state treasurer also features a heavyweight contest between former state treasurer James Lewis and current state Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela.
Lewis is respected for his quiet competence. He is accustomed to cleaning up messy situations during his numerous roles in local, state and federal government.
The Roswell native has been Bernalillo County treasurer, chief administrative officer for Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, chief of staff for Gov. Bruce King and an assistant to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Varela is respected for his financial expertise. After retiring from state government, where he worked in financial control for the Department of Finance and Administration, he served 20 years in the Legislature as a leader on the House Appropriations Committee and the Legislative Finance Committee.
Varela's entrance into the treasurer's race chased out some smaller fish, encouraged by Democratic Party leaders to make their exit. But Lewis is not a small fish, making the Democratic primary in the treasurer's contest a big time battle.
The Democrat auditor's primary also will feature a lively race between Jeff Armijo, 35, a second cousin of Mayor Martin Chavez, and former bank examiner Tom Buckner, 64, of Rio Rancho. Buckner currently serves as deputy superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department.
WED, 1-18-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, January 12, 2006

1-16 Will Spaceport public-Private Partnership Work?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson can be expected to have numerous naysayers, concerned about his daring initiatives such as a regional railroad and a spaceport.
But some of his detractors come from within the national Democratic Party. And that can be tough on a guy with national ambitions.
Political opponents are the usual suspects to find fault with anything Richardson does. Those problems are confronted by every leader. But when members of your own party become concerned, it's a different story.
And that's what has been happening, almost since Richardson took office. The bold moves that Richardson promised were seen by some Democrats as too bold for the image of a United States president. He has been called "unpresidential" for some of his ideas and actions.
I asked him about that recently. I asked if he might not want to cut back on his big ideas in order to enhance his national ambitions. Richardson said that's not him and that it doesn't bother him.
What this means is that some of Richardson's big promotions designed to help the state aren't necessarily helping him reach national prominence as is charged by his detractors. Richardson knows that and he is doing it anyway.
Evidently he feels that if his initiatives are successful they will end up helping him in the long run. Gov. Michael Dukakis used his Massachusetts Miracle to help gain the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. Unfortunately that miracle began fizzling out during the general election.
Richardson's most recent initiative also is his most daring, involving a huge public-private partnership to build and operate the world's first commercial spaceport.
Public-private partnerships have become very popular and Richardson is a major advocate. The combination of economic and political power produces an irresistible force.
The problem is that the two are meant to be a check and balance on each other. There is no check on an irresistible force. Free enterprise is lost amid subsidies, incentives, tax-breaks and insider privilege, with taxpayers footing the bill.
Is that what is about to happen with the spaceport? Many questions should be asked and answered before New Mexico decides to go ahead with the project.
I want to see that project be successful as much as any New Mexican. It is an exciting concept. But it must be more than a roll of the dice.
Before New Mexico's lawmakers, who go into session for a brief 30 days beginning Tuesday, should approve an initial $33 million payment toward the construction of a spaceport, they must ask how this public-private partnership is going to work.
How is New Mexico's $225 million investment going to pay off? All we've heard so far is that Virgin Galactic will pay $1 million a year in rent.
We know there will be jobs and that those people will pay taxes. Will Virgin Galactic also pay taxes? Will it cover all operating expenses? Will it manage the spaceport or will the state? Who will assume liability for spacecraft accidents?
If the 2006 Legislature gives a go-ahead for the project, the next step is the approval of the people of southern New Mexico, who must impose a local option gross receipts tax upon themselves.
We haven't yet heard exactly what is included in "southern New Mexico," but if lawmakers don't ask all the right questions, you can bet the people who are about to be taxed will ask them.
Virgin owner Sir Richard Branson says that if New Mexicans do decide to blast off with this project, the governor and state will be recognized for a love of adventure and a willingness to take chances.
He calls that recognition "branding" a term currently quite popular in the world of marketing. Maybe it will attract many people to New Mexico. Whether it will attract many votes to our governor is another question, but he appears willing to take that chance.
MON, 1-16-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

1-13 Casino Jack and the NM Indians

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The Jack Abramoff scandal has barely touched members of New Mexico's congressional delegation. That is mainly because Casino Jack dealt primarily with House Republican leaders and Interior Department officials.
But it has touched some Indian pueblos from the area. In a November hearing of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona revealed that New Mexico's Sandia Pueblo had been defrauded of over $2.7 million by Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon
McCain noted that the amount was much higher than previously disclosed. The Pueblo, itself, continues to put the figure at "more than a million dollars." McCain said investigators will try to find out how that $2.7 million was spent. The possibility also exists that he will call a hearing to take testimony from the pueblo. Sandia was seeking unlimited access to over 10,000 acres of land on the west face of the Sandias.
The million dollars the pueblo acknowledges, was paid to Scanlon for "public relations" work. McCain also disclosed that the pueblo paid $125,000 to Abramoff's former law firm, Greenberg Traurig. Where the remainder of the $2.7 million went is still not known.
Recently, it was revealed that the Tigua Pueblo of El Paso was the subject of an even bigger swindle. After operating the Speaking Rock Casino for almost nine years, it was shut down in 2002 following a major effort by Abramoff and the Christian Coalition.
Abramoff then turned around and got the Tigua's to pay him $4.2 million to work on getting it reopened. Abramoff got the money, but the deal to reopen the casino fell through. The Tiguas also contributed between $250,000 and $300,000 to congressional campaigns in 2002 and 2004.
The Tiguas now say they would like that money back. Members of Congress currently are scrambling to return political contributions from Abramoff and his good friend Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas. Most of those refunds are being given to charities in the members' congressional districts.
But in the case of Indian tribes directed by Abramoff to make contributions to certain candidates, some tribes are saying they would prefer the money be returned. But most members of Congress claim it would be an insult to the tribe to return it.
Evidently, the tribes didn't realize it would be an insult until they were so informed by the people who took their money and now want to take care of the Indians. Our government officials are just too nice.
Rep. Heather Wilson, of New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, has returned $1,000 given to her by Abramoff, but hasn't returned $4,000 from Sandia Pueblo, an Abramoff client. Maybe she figures she would have received it anyway, since the pueblo is in her district.
Wilson also has returned $10,000 of $47,000 she received from former House Republican leader Tom DeLay's political action committee that now is under scrutiny.
Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District, at last report, had not returned the $20,000 he received from DeLay. According to federal reports, Pearce has not received contributions from Abramoff or tribes he has represented, although he has received $1,000 from Abramoff's former law firm Greenberg Traurig.
Pearce's mentor, California Rep. Richard Pombo, has reported receiving $1,000 from Santa Clara Pueblo, which operates Big Rock Casino in Espanola. Pombo is chairman of the House Resources Committee, which is responsible for tribal-related legislation. Obviously, he is a target of attention from Mr. Abramoff.
This is the first we have heard about Santa Clara being involved with wheeler-dealers in Washington. Before this is over, we may learn that other New Mexico tribes are involved.
Sen. McCain, who thought he was through with committee hearings on the defrauding of Indian tribes, now has reopened those hearings. One of the first witnesses he called was Italia Federici, who runs a non-profit organization formed by Interior Secretary Gale Norton. He wants to know about large tribal donations to the group.
FRI, 1-13-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, January 09, 2006

No Column for 1-11

Due to a family tragedy there will be no Wednesday column. Should be able to resume by Friday.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

1-9 Is Spaceport Worth It?

Mon, 1-09-06

SANTA FE -- Is a New Mexico spaceport worth the risk? An article in a Business Week magazine early last year predicted it won't work.
The article noted that all three flights of SpaceShipOne experienced technical difficulties that would have grounded a flight with paying passengers. It predicted that such problems with beefing up the ship to carry five passengers, or more, will produce similar delays that will run its costs well over the projected $100 million dollars.
The article also said its research indicated that only 500-800 Americans will be willing to pay $100,000 for a flight. On that count, Business Week appears to have been proven wrong. Virgin Galactic says 100 people already have forked over $200,000 for a ticket and almost 40,000 more have put down a $20,000 deposit on a ride.
If those figures are correct, Business week thinks Richard Branson will be in the black on his venture.
But all that is contingent on New Mexico coming up with $225 million to build the spaceport to Branson's specifications. Branson's only charge for the construction will be a $1 million a year lease payment for 20 years, which Branson will increase if business is good.
So Branson may have his end figured out. And if it doesn't quite work, his Virgin Group consists of over 200 companies that brought in $10.7 billion last year. That's more than New Mexico made in revenues last year.
And what about poor New Mexico, which continually ranks near the bottom on economic indexes? Presently, we are rolling in severance tax revenues from oil and gas receipts. We can afford to build a spaceport, but is that the right choice to make?
Lawmakers will be convening in Santa Fe in a matter of days to consider that question. It is a short legislative session so the decision must be made by Feb. 16.
It isn't as though lawmakers won't have some other priorities to consider. State officials have always said that the best investment we can make is in the education of our children. Current state and local expenditures per child rank New Mexico near the bottom despite some modest efforts by our current governor to increase them. Should that be where the money goes?
Unfortunately, children's education is a continuing expense and windfall oil and gas revenues aren't. Crumbling buildings could be repaired or rebuilt. College tuition funds could be increased.
So maybe a big gamble like this is the way to go, if it's not foolhardy. Second opinions should be sought into this uncharted territory. It would be ironic if the space travel business turned out to have better margins than airline travel.
And are there better alternatives to what Branson is proposing for a spaceport? He wants it underground in order to reduce air conditioning costs. He evidently pays for air conditioning, while we pay the extra cost of digging the hole.
And what about Cannon Air Base in Clovis? Everyone is looking for a new mission. How about making that the spaceport? It already has facilities to go with its wide open spaces and huge bombing image.
And the huge logo of the spaceport, that will be seen from outer space. It is to look like Richard Branson's eyeball. How about making it look like the Zia sun symbol, the state's logo? That suggestion may not be a cost-saving one however. Zia pueblo likely would want compensation. Branson might pay a pretty price for his idea.
Gov. Bill Richardson says Branson might be willing to do some other nice things for our state if he were to locate his spaceport here. New Mexico has long wanted direct flights to major cities on the East and West coasts.
That is something Branson likely would want too if he were to locate a major business here. His Virgin Airways could be the perfect vehicle to do that.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

1-06 Rain Didn't Dampen Spirits

FRI, 1-06-06

Syndicated Columnist

PASADENA -- It rained on New Mexico's Rose Parade float but it didn't dampen the spirits of the New Mexicans who traveled to California to decorate it. Despite the distance from our hotels to the parade route, most hardy souls made it to the bleachers reserved for us on a very soggy morning.
We had put in dozens of hours apiece on our entry, many working day and night during the week leading up to the parade. Despite the fact that we were working for full-time professionals, several in our group had greater skills and better tools.
When we arrived, early the week of the parade, the float had been constructed -- mainly of steel rods and chicken wire. It had been covered with a foam rubber material strong enough to walk on, but porous enough to ram a flower through. The roses were in plastic vials, filled with a combination of water and 7-Up. The bottoms of the vials were shaped like spears and did their job well.
The three-story Spanish mission, which comprised much of the float, was covered with oatmeal. Cinnamon had been rubbed on in places to soften the appearance.
The joke immediately became that if it rained on parade day, we'd take spoons and bowls to the parade and have breakfast afterward. But even after its thorough soaking at the parade, the oatmeal adhered. That must have been good paste. We hadn't been worried about eating the paste, because everything had to be organic.
The Rose Parade rules went overboard on the organic thing. Wood could not be left bare unless it was covered with flowers -- or other wood. We put redwood strips on top of pine. Painting it a redwood color was forbidden, because paint was not allowed.
Much of the float's surface was covered by finely chopped flowers. Food processors were not allowed and neither were blow guns. So flowers were cut with scissors until they were a fine meal and then applied to a glued surface by hand.
Obviously this required dozens of volunteers to be working at all times because there were thousands of flowers to cut and paste. The New Mexico volunteers, many of whom had lengthy experience building floats for Santa Fe Fiesta parades, seemed to work harder and faster than the local volunteers, so the supervisors often found themselves with no jobs to give out until they were allowed to turn the page in their instruction manual.
Most our volunteers were senior citizens. Who else would have the time and patience? But we didn't stick to the ground floor jobs. When I arrived, I looked up to see Curt Beevers chiseling oatmeal off the cross atop the three-story mission.
The designer had decided it didn't stand out enough. And since he wasn't allowed to paint it a different color, the oatmeal was stripped off and the cross was covered with red woods strips. The job took most of the day.
Beevers, an iron worker many years ago, celebrated his 76th birthday on the way to Pasadena.
The rain was a bummer. It was the first time in 51 years. The day before was much better. The day after was cloudless. The floats with no people fared better. Our New Mexicans, not accustomed to rain, looked pretty miserable, except for Gov. Richardson, of course.
Not winning a prize also was disappointing. Our float was one of the smaller ones in the parade. Because it had nine people, representing New Mexico's various cultures, it had less animation. The judges seemed to like animation.
And even though the Land of Enchantment is magical to us, maybe it didn't fit the parade's "magical" theme well enough for the judges. Maybe we should have had UFO's crashing at Roswell and Virgin Galactic buzzing Las Cruces.
But, all in all, we got in our licks with the media and tourism writers who stopped by the float decorating tent. We, and the governor, were on lots of local television, promoting our state, so we felt as though we accomplished our goal.