Results From Referendum Vote VERY Close
Richard Branson's dreams
for the future rest squarely on a proposed quarter-cent sales tax
increase and New Mexico voter support.
Branson's Spaceport America, a $198 million launch complex
designed to launch paying tourists into space from a location in
southeastern New Mexico, would be funded by state, local and
federal money. As Aero-News reported last
week, a Dona Ana County vote on a quarter-cent sales
tax increase proposal, held Tuesday, is critical to the mere
existence of the project.
The increase is projected to raise $49 million, and is currently
leading by only 238 votes out of 17,168 ballots cast, according to
the Associated Press. Just 541 provisional ballots still wait to be
counted. A final count is expected Thursday.
Should the Spaceport become a reality, the first rocket flights
would begin in 2009 and would initially be suborbital trips
offering five minutes of weightlessness with a price tag of about
$200,000 per person.
But some folks say they have "no intention" of paying for some
rich person's toys, especially in the rather poor southern New
Mexico's ranching country.
"I do not see any reason that every time I buy a dress for my
wife I should have to pay more taxes," said George Gandara, a
63-year-old Las Cruces business owner. Carol Garcia, 52, also of
Las Cruces, said "It's just a rich man's dream that he needs us to
help pay for. If it's your dream, build it yourself."
Proponents of the launch facility -- including state governor
and presidential hopeful Bill Richardson -- have big plans for
Spaceport America, which boasts upstart space tourism company
Virgin Galactic as an anchor tenant. Virgin signed a 20-year lease
last year to use the facility, and representatives with the company
visited the area recently to scout locations for a future resort
In February 2006, the New Mexico legislature approved $110
million to fund development of the spaceport through 2009...and
plans are underway to build a 10,000-foot runway and terminal
facility next year. The emerging inland spaceport, located about an
hour's drive southeast of Truth or Consequences, NM, has already
witnessed its first launch: a less-than-successful effort by UP
Aerospace to send a small rocket into suborbital space.
Neighboring Sierra and Otero counties are holding off their own
referendums, to see what the outcome of the Dona Ana vote
will be. New Mexico's economic development director, Rick Homans,
said he was expecting "a wider margin of victory."
"On one hand, there is a healthy skepticism and a great deal of
caution about the project," he said. "And on the other hand, there
is a lot of optimism for what it could do for the state."
Will Whitehorn, a spokesman for Branson's Virgin Galactic in
London, said Wednesday his company would refuse comment until all
ballots had been tallied.
Homans did say a defeat of the tax increase would, more than
likely, doom the project. "Realistically, the project would
unravel, very likely," he said.
Under the current plan, Virgin Galactic would relocate its
headquarters from London to New Mexico, and bring some 200
employees with it if the referendum passes.
Democratic presidential hopeful Gov. Bill Richardson said the
project would "do no less than mark New Mexico as the birthplace of
the second space age."
He and other political leaders hope the project will also
stimulate manufacturing and research industries in the area.
"The premise is that once space becomes accessible, then all
sorts of things will happen in space and on the moon, and there's
going to be a whole industry that supports it," Homans said.
The potential site is a 27-square-mile area near the White Sands
Missile Range and would include a 10,000-foot runway with adjacent
terminals and hangars. Such a runway could accommodate the aircraft
necessary to take spaceships to an altitude of 60,000 feet for
launch. There are also plans for and area for vertical rocket
launch as well.
The southern New Mexico desert was chosen as a launch site
because of the good weather, the large expanse of open desert and
state support, said Branson.
"We're about to embark on a wonderful adventure. We're going
where no one has gone before. There's no model to follow, nothing
to copy," Branson said in 2005.