Inside the Capitol

Friday, April 06, 2007

4-11 Gov's Luck Continues With Spaceport Vote

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Big Bill, the Wild West gambler, has played another winning hand, this time with a successful Dona Ana County tax vote to support Spaceport America in the northern part of the county.
Gov. Bill Richardson staked all the chips he had in this game on pulling out a narrow victory in the election imposing a quarter-cent sales tax increase on purchases in the county.
He warned that if the tax increase didn't pass, the entire project would be called off and Virgin Galactic would go somewhere else to fly its space planes.
As for Virgin Galactic, company officials said before the vote that they didn't have a Plan B in case the election were lost. That apparently means that Virgin Galactic wasn't making any threat to move. The threat was from the governor.
And it worked. At least, a bare majority of Dona Ana County voters decided not to test whether the governor was bluffing. The margin was 270 votes out of 17,770 cast.
That's razor-thin, but not nearly as close as the 195-vote margin by which Richardson won the 2003 constitutional amendment election to grant public schools more money out of the state permanent fund.
It seems our governor can do a better job of selling himself than his ideas. But he still squeaks by. He'll have to hope his luck holds in the presidential campaign.
The Dona Ana election produced some interesting coalitions. The 2003 constitutional amendment election broke strongly along party lines but this one didn't. Republican and Democratic leaders both supported the spaceport tax. It didn't break along liberal-conservative lines either.
Oscar Vasquez Butler, a county commissioner who opposed the vote, described the battle as rich against poor. That's closer to reality.
Maybe the best description is that the split was between those who feel economic development is the best way to better conditions in one of the state's poorer counties versus those who would like to see the money go directly to the poor.
The spaceport tax opponents say they weren't really against the spaceport or the tax. They feel the spaceport should be built entirely with state or private money since it will benefit the entire state and Virgin Galactic. They say they really weren't against the county tax either, but the tax should go to meeting needs of the poor.
Supporters of the spaceport ran a well-organized, well-funded campaign for approval. The opponents primarily were a loose-knit alliance of colonias from the southern part of the county, which didn't have the money for a campaign or for a challenge to the results.
Spaceport proponents note that cities and counties often provide large tax breaks to businesses they want to attract to their area. Those tax breaks usually don't require a public referendum, so they don't become so controversial.
State Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans says the voters' decision to back the project likely will have a ripple effect with investors, banks and other governments considering backing the new industry.
Those "other governments" would be Otero and Sierra counties, which also are being asked to help fund the spaceport. Both counties were waiting to see Dona Ana results before setting election dates.
Failure in either or both counties likely won't kill the project since Dona Ana County, which stretches from north of Hatch to the Mexican border, comprises over 80 percent of the area's population.
Different factors will be at work in the other two counties. There is sure to be well-organized and financed support from the Governor's Office but certainly no one is declaring victory at this point.
The highway signs on either side of Truth or Consequences proclaiming it the gateway to the spaceport appear to indicate some enthusiasm there.
Voters in Otero and Sierra counties who would like to see a good discussion of both sides of the Dona Ana County vote might want to look at Heath Haussamen's
WED, 4-11-07

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



Post a Comment

<< Home