New Mexico Legislature Weighs Bill To Sell Spaceport

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Updated Feb. 21 at 5 p.m. EST.

A committee in New Mexico’s state legislature deferred, without recommendation, a bill that would require the state to sell its Spaceport America commercial launch facility.

The New Mexico Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee voted Feb. 19 to transfer the bill, designated SB 267, to the state Senate Finance Committee without making a recommendation about whether the bill should ultimately be approved by the full Senate. The finance committee has not yet scheduled a hearing to consider the bill.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. George K. Muñoz (D), would require the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to develop a marketing plan for selling the spaceport to “potential national and international buyers” by Oct. 1. The bill does not set a deadline for selling the spaceport, but does stipulate that it “not be [sold] for less than fair market value.”

“I don’t know who the potential buyers would be, but whatever proceeds we receive could be used to paying down the debt New Mexico committed to when we built the place,” Muñoz said in a Feb. 19 statement about the bill.

Muñoz introduced the bill in January after expressing frustration about the lack of information from the authority about its efforts to make the spaceport financially self-sustaining. Development delays by the spaceport’s anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, have pushed back the start of commercial operations there until at least 2016, restricting the amount of revenue the spaceport can collect from rents and operating fees.

“The Legislature is getting virtually no pertinent financial information regarding the spaceport or its anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic,” Muñoz said.

In a statement provided to SpaceNews late Feb. 20, Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, argued that Muñoz’s desire to sell the spaceport is not widely shared. “In fact, at the hearing of the bill no one except Senator Muñoz, who proposed the bill, spoke in its favor,” she said. “In contrast, there were many who spoke against his bill.”

Anderson added that the spaceport is “doing fine” and generated more than $1.6 million in revenue in 2014. “I think some legislators are impatient to have the commercial space industry literally take off,” she said.

In her fiscal year 2016 budget proposal released in January, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) requested nearly $1.8 million for spaceport operations, citing “budget shortfalls due to launch delays.”

The New Mexico legislature approved plans in 2006 to develop Spaceport America as a commercial launch site with a runway, hangar and other facilities custom-designed for Virgin Galactic. The state spent more than $200 million on construction of the spaceport in an isolated part of southern New Mexico, east of the town of Truth or Consequences.

“There was a lot of hoopla before that if ‘We build it, they will come,’ but it’s been several years now and nobody’s shown up yet,” Muñoz said.