New Mexico lawmaker wants to sell taxpayer-financed Spaceport America

One New Mexico lawmaker is tired of spending money on Spaceport America and wants to sell the futuristic hangar, its nearly two-mile-long runway and the 18,000 acres that surround it.

"A bill of goods that never was going to happen in the first place" is how Sen. George Munoz described the spaceport Friday.

Under legislation introduced by Munoz, D-Gallup, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority and other agencies would have to come up with a marketing plan by October to sell the spaceport. Money from the sale would be used to pay back development bonds, and taxes imposed in Sierra and Dona Ana counties to pay for the project would be rescinded.

A Senate committee was scheduled to take up the bill on Monday. The debate comes after the same committee approved a measure that would prevent the spaceport authority from using taxpayer dollars for operating expenses, rather than paying down the bond debt.

Munoz's bill only adds fuel to criticisms that the nearly quarter-billion-dollar, taxpayer-financed project is a boondoggle.

Promises of commercial flights launching from the spaceport have been pushed back year after year. It happened again in 2014, when anchor tenant Virgin Galactic had its spaceship break up over the California desert during a test flight. One pilot was killed, another was seriously injured and the program was set back at least another year.

Supporters argue that developing a spaceport from scratch doesn't happen overnight and that New Mexico has a chance to be on the front end of the burgeoning commercial space industry.

"Many states and communities are now looking to develop spaceports for economic development reasons. Really innovative companies are doing groundbreaking development to make this happen, and we'll all reap the benefits," Christine Anderson, executive director of the spaceport authority, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Of the nine licensed spaceports in the U.S., Spaceport America is the only one built specifically for commercial space flights and rocket launches. Developers say its location far from any population center is a plus.

But Munoz questioned whether the remote area could attract the exclusive clientele expected in the first wave of space tourists. Tickets to fly with Virgin Galactic are $250,000; about 700 people have signed up.

"It's common sense. You're selling a high-priced item, and you're going to cater to the world's 1 percent or even less," Munoz said. "If I'm Tom Cruise or Justin Bieber, I'm going to go to Dubai, where I can stay in a 10-star hotel, buy a couple of Rolexes, drive a Bentley, fly in space and come back."

Anderson argued that the idea of Spaceport America is to one day be part of a network of spaceports around the world that offer point-to-point travel like airports do today.