Spaceport bill passes Senate

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Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Much of what aerospace companies do at Spaceport America – even who they are – could be kept confidential under legislation that passed the state Senate on Monday.

The proposal won approval on a 35-5 vote and now heads to the House, with just a few days left in the session.

Sen. William Burt, an Alamogordo Republican and a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the bill is needed to ensure the Spaceport can compete for business in the aerospace industry, where companies demand privacy to ensure rivals don’t steal their intellectual property.

A few senators, meanwhile, questioned whether so much secrecy is appropriate for a publicly funded agency. And one senator questioned the viability of the Spaceport itself.

In the end, just five senators, all Democrats, opposed the bill.

Supporters said the measure would help taxpayers earn a return on their $220 million investment in the Spaceport. They hinted that customers are ready to sign contracts if the bill passes.

The agency itself suggested the legislation might result in at least $2 million more in annual state revenue because of new customers. Landing just one large company, the Spaceport contends, could result in 200 new jobs.

“It is a new day at Spaceport America,” Burt said. “This bill will provide them the protection they need to bring in some of the biggest names in aerospace.”

Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said the Spaceport has already operated with too much secrecy and the state has continued to plow money into the place, even after the initial investment.

“At the end of the day, we’ve invested over $250 million,” he said, and the Spaceport “has done nothing for the state of New Mexico to generate income.”

But he noted that the agency is under new management, and he supported the bill in the end. If passage of the bill doesn’t result in new business, Muñoz said, the state should sell the Spaceport.

Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, also questioned the need for more confidentiality.

“New Mexico taxpayers deserve to have the information they need in a timely fashion,” said Morales, who voted against the bill.

Senate Bill 98 would exempt more Spaceport information from disclosure under New Mexico’s public records law. Trade secrets are already exempt.

But the proposal would also allow the agency to keep secret the identity of the Spaceport’s aerospace customers, if they don’t want their names disclosed.

The legislation also allows confidentiality for any proprietary business and technical information related to customers’ operations.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, which opposes the bill, has said the legislation would make the Spaceport “the least transparent agency in the state.”

The proposal now heads to the House – where it may have to pass a committee or two, in addition to the full House. The legislative session ends at noon Thursday.

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