On Tuesday night votes in Sierra County, New Mexico overwhelmingly approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase to help pay for Spaceport America. The vote was perceived as critical not so much for the money it would generate (only about $2.3 million over 20 years, barely one percent of the spaceport’s $198-million cost) as for clearing the way for the creation of a spaceport “tax district” with neighboring Doña Ana County, which passed a similar tax increase last year. According to state law, at least two municipalities needed to pass the tax for a district to be created, which could then collect and spend the money. Without Sierra County, there was no way to spend any money the more populous Doña Ana collected, which is why that county put off collection of the tax at the end of 2007.
The next step, then, is for Sierra and Doña Ana Counties to create such a tax district. That could be done in the next 60 days or so, although it probably won’t be ready by July 1, the next opportunity to put the tax increases into effect. (According to state law, sales tax increases can go into effect only on January 1 and July 1.) That makes it more likely the tax will kick in on January 1, 2009; any later would jeopardize work on the spaceport.
A third county, Otero, which includes the city of Alamogordo, is next in line to hold a tax referendum. County officials there said they would only hold an election if the tax passed in Sierra County; now that it has, that county is planning to put a smaller tax increase (one-eighth of a percent rather than one-quarter) on the general election ballot in November. Spaceport officials are hoping the tax passes, but said they would still be able to proceed even if Otero does not join the tax district.
As for the spaceport itself, the next major step is completing work needed to receive its FAA license. The major obstacle there is the completion of an environmental assessment, which is now projected to be wrapped up by the end of the year, a little later than previously planned (at the International Symposium on Personal Spaceflight last October, state officials planned to have the environmental assessment done by September.) The license from the FAA is needed before construction can begin.