Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

2-19 Alms For the Rich

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Sir Richard Branson, the eccentric British billionaire for whom New Mexico taxpayers are building a $225 million spaceport, recently offered $25 million to the first person devising a way to suck carbon dioxide out of the air.
It is part of $3 billion Branson vows to spend fighting global warming. He says he will devote all the profits from his travel companies over the next 10 years to the cause.
That's nice. But why are we buying this fellow a spaceport? I'm sure there are good answers to that question, but his announcement is poorly timed, coming just weeks before Dona Ana County's early April vote on whether residents want to fork over another quarter cent in sales tax to build his spaceport.
Business is business and tax-deductible contributions to worthy causes are something else, we realize. Branson has a right to make money on his investments and donate it to his favorite causes. But New Mexicans also have some rights to decide how we gamble our money.
If Branson had to build his own spaceport, maybe he would have built it in California, close to where his spaceship is being built and close to where many of his passengers live.
And if he'd built his spaceport here, we are sure to have given him all sorts of tax incentives such as the film industry and many other businesses are receiving from state and local governments. So maybe it all comes out about even.
By the way, don't bother working on a carbon sucking machine. I'm going to plant a tree. It not only eats carbon dioxide, it spits out oxygen. You get two for the price of one.
If the other 6.6 billion people on this planet would do the same, we could replace all those forests we cut down in the name of progress and likely solve some of our greenhouse gas problem. I'll even donate my $25 million to the replanting.
Organizers of this "Virgin Challenge" (wouldn't you know that's what Branson would call it) say the greenhouse gas vacuum must be cost effective. Once a tree takes root and gets some water, it does the work with nothing but solar energy. It's also a perpetual motion sort of deal -- and self-sustaining. I have this contest won.
Another why-doesn't-he-pay-for-it-himself situation arose at about the same time as Branson's announcement. New York City shock jock Don Imus lit into Gov. Bill Richardson for not moving quickly enough on a commitment to restore an old school building near the entrance to his ranch at Ribera, New Mexico.
Imus, who isn't a nice guy, has a very funny, informative and successful radio show that has been simulcast from 4 a.m.-7 a.m. on MSNBC since soon after the network came into existence.
He makes millions and has raised many millions more to fund a ranch experience for children with terminal diseases. With his access to money, Imus easily could renovate the schoolhouse himself. But he knows a bird's nest on the ground when he sees one.
Imus can give frequent nationwide access to people he likes. And he talks a great deal about those people even when they aren't on. Guests have to be able to hold up their end of snappy conversations and endure impertinent questions from Imus, which actually are the highlight of the show.
Richardson is one of the chosen who passes those tests. Imus knows Richardson needs all the national exposure he can get, so he knows he can leverage the governor to find the state funds necessary to renovate that building.
Many guests have learned over the years not to trip the I-Man's hair-trigger temper. His belittling of a person can be even more profuse than his words of praise. And Imus revels in doing it.
That's what happened to Gov. Richardson when work on the schoolhouse didn't begin soon enough. Relations now appear back on track. Imus also can switch back with equal ease.
But the bottom line is that New Mexico taxpayers will be sprucing up a building on the way to the Imus ranch that we normally wouldn't have been doing.
MON, 2-19-07

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



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