Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Blogging Subjects Du Jour: The Spaceport, Kirtland & Sandia, Los Alamos, The State Budget, UNM Prez Search, And Hector Balderas' Grandmother 

That huge slash to the NM Spaceport administrative budget that went unnoticed until last week---down to $500,000, for a more than 50 percent haircut--came as a surprise to Spaceport watchers, but they say what's happening in Santa Fe isn't slowing Virgin Galactic's plans to keep moving forward with the plans to launch tourists into space at $200,000 a pop.

But with such a slim budget what about state oversight and marketing? That's the danger--operationally and politically. After all, overseeing a Spaceport isn't like building an erector set. Future foul-ups? Look for fingers to point at the spartan budget and the Fourth Floor.

The Spaceport construction budget--$209 million from the state and a taxpayer supported tax--is unaffected.

Why do Spaceport backers pester Martinez to say something positive and out loud about the Spaceport? Well, because of stuff like this :

Space Expedition Curaçao (SXC) will launch 35-minute flights into space from the southern Caribbean island beginning Jan. 1, 2014, according to the company. SXC is an initiative of aviators Ben Droste and Harry van Hulten and investors Michiel Mol and Maarten Elshove; former Space Shuttle pilot Rick Searfoss will pilot the one-passenger flights, which will cost $90,000. Searfoss is a test pilot for XCOR, a U.S.-based manufacturer of and builder of the Lynx2, the two-seater space ship to be used for the flights.

We think New Mexico will get it done, but if we don't, someone else will.

Besides our Governor, Spaceport backers say the project, which could be a major job generator for the state, could use some renewed interest from State Senator John Arthur Smith, the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He represents a large swath of Sierra County where the Spaceport is located and not a state budget cut goes through without him knowing about it. Will "Dr. No" offer southern New Mexico some assurances about the future?


We have Spaceport Alligators now and they are on the case for us. Here's a letter from one of them:

I have been involved with the construction of Spaceport America since ground was broken in 2009. So I've worked with all three Directors.
..I believe they currently have six staff members. Surely those can't be sustained with only a $500,000 budget.

....The Spaceport has the potential of being a significant economic generator. We've had visitors from around the globe, many exploring how to build similar facilities in places such as Australia, the Caribbean and Scandinavia. National Geographic has been filming the construction activity and will produce a documentary on the project. Boeing Corp. is paying to utilize the completed runway over the next few weeks to conduct testing.

The basic infrastructure (the water, wastewater, roadways, drainage, etc.) is essentially complete. However, permanent power to the site is still not available. That has caused considerable construction-related difficulties. Hopefully, permanent power will finally be brought to the site by mid-summer.

Virgin Galactic remains committed to Spaceport America, despite a very tenuous administrative transition since January 1. Surely, Sir Richard Branson has the financial resources to one day say, "enough is enough New Mexico" and take his operation elsewhere. He'd likely make good on a contract withdrawal payment, but where would that leave our Spaceport? I remain optimistic that such a doomsday scenario will not happen.

It's concerning that our Governor, who hails from the region of the state that has the most to gain from the success of the Spaceport, continues to throttle her support....

We aren't ready to throw the towel in on Susana on this. She's got--as the astronauts say--"the right stuff." She just needs to lighten up and show it.

Maybe some of the southerners can light a fire under her as well as her top aides--Keith Gardner of Roswell and Brian Moore of Clayton. Surely, they are advocating for rural New Mexico in their new positions, aren't they?


Martinez told a business audience Monday that her "administration worked with state legislators during the recent legislative session to close a $420 million budget deficit without raising or imposing new taxes."

How does she figure that when the AP reported:

Gov. Martinez signed into law a package of financial measures, including a budget allocating $5.4 billion next year for public education and general government programs. The budget, as signed, will cut state spending by nearly 3 percent, or $156 million, in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

How she continually gets to $420 million--which makes her political muscle look bigger--is one of the ongoing mysteries of New Mexican politics.


We get a little hyper on the Spaceport because we live in a city where everyday we see Sandia Labs, a private-public partnership that serves as a foundation of our economy, as it has for some 60 years. Together with Kirtland Air Force Base the annual economic impact is immense. New figures show the payroll for Kirtland and Sandia is over $2.1 billion annually. Click on the image to see that and more financial info.

Could Spaceport America someday make a similar contribution? Well, maybe not a $2 billion payroll, but development of a full-fledged space industry here holds out so much promise that we would violate a blogger's fiduciary responsibility by not taking up its cause. (Geez, that makes us important sounding).


Then there's Los Alamos Labs and the latest info on its financial impact in the north.

We didn't make New Mexico a federal reservation, but unlike some critics, we don't fight it. We're for the advancement of the people of New Mexico any legal way we can get it. The last we looked that federal money spent is the same as money generated by the private sector. And in this everlasting recession, that's a very good thing,


Come to think of it, there's no woman yet in the race for the ABQ congressional seat and while Diane Denish may seem unlikely for the contest, a field of all men could make the race more enticing. Audience reports say she gave a robust speech at Saturday's Dem central committee meeting nominating Javier Gonzales for another term. Dem media consultant James Hallinan says:

When Diane and I discussed CD1 (the ABQ US House seat) she made it very clear to me that she is seriously weighing a run. She has been in regular communication with the DCCC and others in DC, and of course her many supporters.


The Tuesday blog marches on with NMSU economics professor Chris Erickson and his thoughts on the search for a new president of the University of New Mexico. He comments on how much faculty representation there should be on the search committee:

Joe, Why shouldn’t faculty make up a significant proportion of a university president search committee? After all faculty are higher education professionals who know a lot about running a university. During NMSU’s most recent president search, eight out of thirteen committee members where either current or past employees of NMSU; five were faculty. We also included two politicians: Former Governor Garrey Carruthers, who in a previous life was a tenured full professor at NMSU and is currently Dean of the Business College, and Dolores Connors, a Las Cruces city councilor and long time NMSU booster. No current regents were included on the committee, although the Chair was a former regent.

Our committee worked very well and resulted in the hiring of Dr. Barbara Couture who has proved to be a very able leader in a tough budget environment. (See
here for further details about the NMSU presidential search committee.)

Thanks, Chris. We're never too proud to take advice from an Aggie. Send Dr. Barbara up here for a visit.


Media watchers report KOB-TV's Kayla Anderson is leaving the station to become public info officer for Dem Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenberg....

When Dem US Senate candidate Hector Balderas got into the race, we blogged about his family background and mentioned that his grandfather on his mother's side--Juan Vigil--was a sheepherder in the Wagon Mound area where Hector was born. So what was the maiden name of his grandmother, a reader asked? Hector's campaign says her name was Fabiola Martinez. And about that name, we find:

(The name) possibly means "one who grows beans." Also, Saint Fabiola (fourth century) was an energetic Roman matron who organized the first hospice for sick and needy travelers.

See, you learn something new around here every day--or at least we do.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Reporting to you from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

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