Inside the Capitol

Sunday, January 23, 2011

1-26 Is Martinez After Richardson Pet Projects?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Gov. Susana Martinez is targeted in on the former governor's pet projects. Is it coincidence or does she have Richardson's legacy in her sights?
Education spending was one of Richardson's priorities. Martinez isn't looking to lower classroom spending levels, she just wants to use some new approaches.
That's fair enough. The new programs Richardson initiated didn't do much to improve student performance. So trying different methods is legitimate.
But the other three Richardson favorites may either feel the Martinez budget ax or at least some heavy slicing. We're talking about the Rail Runner, the film incentives and the spaceport.
Interestingly, none of these three was a new idea with Richardson. Former Gov. Toney Anaya proposed a bullet train. A film tax incentive was first passed and signed during the Gary Johnson administration. And the spaceport has been a dream since the early 1990s.
But Richardson picked up all three and ran with them. They were his signature projects. And Martinez is decidedly lukewarm on all three.
Railroad riders and revenues are chugging straight down hill. After its novelty wore off, it became almost totally a commuter train for state employees and many are becoming disenchanted with it.
Cars can make the commute faster. Delays from inconveniences such as hitting cows cost state employees leave time or money because they are docked for being late.
So do we shut it down to save the operating losses? We could sell the train cars at a big loss on eBay, like the airplane. Who would buy the track? Do we pay for upkeep? It's a tough decision any way we go.
The 25 percent film tax rebate is a different matter. Business is booming on that front. But Martinez and some lawmakers are worried we are giving too much back. Studies here and elsewhere are all over the board as to how much is too much. When Richardson took over, we were giving back 20 percent of a company's expenses in the state and a few movies were being shot.
When Richardson arrived, the rebate was raised to 25 percent and business went through the roof. But it wasn't just the money. No one romanced Hollywood better than Big Bill.
My guess is that no matter where the film rebate ends up, New Mexico is not going to get the movie business it has enjoyed the past several years.
Then there's Spaceport America. Las Cruces had been working on that project for over a decade when Richardson arrived. He took it under his wing, blasted funding from the Legislature, and started wooing companies to come test their rockets here.
The first group he landed was Peter Diamandis and his X-Prize competition. So far, X-Prize events have been held at the Las Cruces airport, awaiting construction of the spaceport.
The first big X-Prize was $10 million to the first private company to get to the edge of space. That was won by Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composites company.
Richard Branson immediately signed them up for taking passengers on the same ride for Virgin Galactic. And Richardson quickly talked Branson into Virgin becoming the anchor of Spaceport America.
At this point the spaceport is being characterized as a $200 million boondoggle to send rich people into space. But that's selling it way short. The purpose has always been to make New Mexico the center of the commercial space industry.
That industry is moving more slowly than expected. But that's fine because so is the spaceport. Gov. Martinez wants private investment to help with construction. But private space companies are spending all their money trying to get their rockets to stay up in the air.
Airlines don't pay to build airports, they pay a fee to use them. Trucking companies don't invest in road building. They pay a fee to use them. And it's the same with the spaceport.
Martinez has appointed an outstanding committee to study the spaceport. Expect it to propose ideas to make it an even better investment for New Mexicans.
WED, 1-26-11

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



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