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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Spaceport Bill Zooms Through Senate But A Launch Date Seems Far Away, Plus: Big ABQ Bond Issue Vote Coming And More From Readers On Getting Kids Lifted Up 

Launches from the NM Spaceport by early 2014? Don't count on it. Heck, don't even count on the Spaceport operating here, considering the politics that have threatened to cripple the $209 million project.

As for the launches, Virgin Galactic has in the past made launch date predictions only to see them fly past. Now they are talking up an early '14 date to light their rocket and send the first tourists into sub-orbital space. But don't hold your breath:

The company’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle, which is undergoing testing in Mojave, Calif., has yet to have a single powered flight. Virgin Galactic officials have said that powered flights are set to start this year using a “starter” engine. That propulsion system is believed to be a smaller version of the full-scale hybrid motor that would power SpaceShipTwo into transonic flight. These tests would be followed by flights with the full hybrid engine capable of reaching suborbital space.
 

Providing those flights go well, SpaceShipTwo would need to go through the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) licensing process in order to fly commercially. FAA has never licensed a commercial space plane previously, so it’s not clear how long that process will take.

More fundamentally, there are questions about SpaceShipTwo’s RocketMotorTwo propulsion system. The company had contracted with Sierra Nevada Corporation to produce a hybrid engine powered by nitrous oxide and rubber. However, persistent stories that have circulated in Mojave for years that the design doesn’t work very well.

A Spaceport liability bill is racing through the Legislature after several years of delay, but Virgin Galactic is now squabbling with the state over the fees it pays at the Spaceport. In emails leaked to the press, Virgin threatened to pull out if things don't get straightened out. They then softened their tone. But how many times do we have to say it? "We heard you the first time, Virgin Galactic."

Once the Legislature sends her the needed liability, bill (it passed the Senate Wednesday) it will be up to Governor Martinez and her executives to revive the Spaceport momentum.

A BIG BOND

With construction employment in the ABQ metro at a 20 year low, Mayor Berry's pitch for a big school bond issue city voters will decide Tuesday should get a warm reception:

Mayor Berry, Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks and several builders’ associations made a pitch to voters, urging support for two ballot questions worth $368 million in funding for school renovation and construction.

Berry emphasized the economic benefits of the funding.“This is something we can do as citizens of Albuquerque to put people to work, particularly in the construction industry, which has been the one sector of our local economy that has really, really suffered, I think the longest,” Berry said.

Election day is Tuesday, and early voting continues through Friday. In addition to the funding questions, four school board seats are up for grabs.

At a presentation on the bond issue we attended recently, Brad Winter, APS chief operations officer as well as an ABQ city councilor, said a large share of the bonds will go to renovate and improve schools built in the 50's and 60's. He also said property taxes will not go up if the bonds are approved.

ABQ MISSING

A reader writes:

There is only one ABQ area senator on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, even though we are far and away the state's largest city. No one else comes close to our population. Where is the outrage from ABQ about this? This is totally inside baseball, but the reality is that a lack of ABQ representation on the panel makes a real difference in the city's stroke.

Point taken. The panel is controlled by conservative Democrat John Arthur Smith of Deming whose philosophy is a much better match with rural areas of the state than the cities.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez had a chance to initiate a change in the finance committee when the battle for president pro tem raged between Senators Papen and Campos. But Sanchez said before the vote he liked Smith chairing the panel--a slap against Campos. Papen won. Smith stayed.

That was a critical moment. The Democratic Party can't come with a very aggressive economic agenda to put on Martinez's desk because the conservative coalition that elected Papen and kept Smith as chairman would block it.

The Dems did unveil some ideas this week that contrast them with Martinez, but there's a big difference between holding a news conference and actually forcing a Governor to make a tough veto or sign decision.

BRAZO FOR THE BLOG

Reader Robert Palacioz writes:

Joe, A huge "brazo" for your brilliant article for Tuesday the 29th of January. The section about "our children" and how to remedy our generational core issues are the answers we need to act on now not later. Our actions will determine our path to success or failure as a city, county, and as a state! Thanks for loving New Mexico as much the rest of us who are willing to fight for the betterment of New Mexico.

Thanks again for making the correct moral & ethical stance that I am sure will bring you some"heat.".Just remember, I and other Nuevo Mejicanos are counting on you to keep speaking the truth! 

Thanks for that hefty pat on the back, Robert. We will continue to try to blog up to it...And on the subject of our Jan. 29 blog.....

YOU NEED TWO

Reader Steve Arthur in Santa Fe writes of the proposed constitutional amendment for early childhood programs:

Providing additional help to those needing assistance even earlier in a baby’s life isn’t going to solve the problem. We need intervention before those babies are born. No matter what kind of assistance we provide a young, single mother, she is unlikely to be able to get herself and her children out of poverty.

We need to break the cycle of young, single motherhood. Very few children born into two parent (straight or gay) households grow up in poverty because the two parents can support each other...It is often tough to encourage good behavior in kids, because, let’s be honest, kids can sometimes wear down even two parents, when trying to get them to do things they may not want to do.

I know this isn’t a discussion those on the left like to have, but Pat Moynihan’s concerns 50 years ago are just as true today about single motherhood.  And without fixing the single motherhood problem, we will not break the welfare dependency cycle our state is in.

Thanks, Steve.

ABQ reader Mick says he can see the merits of a constitutional amendment that would let the state tap the permanent fund for early childhood programs but believes there are some questions to be answered:

Joe, I'd feel much better about this proposal if I knew how it was going to be implemented. I agree with the need for early childhood ed, but concrete details are lacking from the educators, as usual.

Good point, Mick.

The fiscal hawks on this one deserve some answers and assurances that the money would not be thrown up in the air like so much confetti.

MY BOTTOM LINES

Metro Court Judge Julie Altwies--a Democrat--was elected to be Chief Judge of Metro Court by her colleagues this week. She takes over from longtime Chief Judge Judith Nakamura who the Guv appointed to the district court. Nakamura, a Republican, fills the vacancy created by the death of Judge Bob Schwartz. Altwies is a 1984 graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law and was appointed to the court in 2005.....

ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham gave her first speech to the US House recently. It's a 60 second number that can be seen here...

And new US Senator Martin Heinrich now has his web site up and running.....

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