Over the last year, space travel fanatics have been looking to Tucson for several reasons, not the least of which has been the construction of Spaceport Tucson.
World View is a company that focuses on developing high-altitude balloons that conduct research in the stratosphere, about 30 kilometers above Earth’s surface. Eventually, the company plans to offer balloon rides into the stratosphere for 75,000 dollars a seat.
Not only did the scientific community find interest in the spaceport, but it also caught the attention of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, who saw the spaceport as a potential economic and touristic boon.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors is a five-person panel responsible for public policy in the region, especially regarding guidance for economic development. The board pushed World View to locate their spaceport in Tucson, which meant giving the company a good deal to settle here.
However, their deal has not gone as smoothly as hoped.
In the 2015 bond election, Pima County voters overwhelmingly denied all six measures to fund economic development and tourism. In January of 2016, four of the five members on the board still voted to sell 15 million dollars worth of bonds to build World View’s facilities, a move that some claimed went behind the backs of voters. This got the board in legal trouble; the Goldwater Institute sued the board for violating state law and the state constitution, and won in the Superior Court on all counts. This month, though, the board voted to appeal the ruling.
While the spaceport would likely benefit Tucson and the county, the people and the courts have spoken on this issue. Pima County is wrong in appealing the Arizona Superior Court’s ruling.
The appeal, first of all, probably will not move the County’s deal forward. When the case was discussed at the Superior Court, the Honorable Catherine Woods ruled that public expenditures had to be for public purposes and that “general economic development” did not fall under the category of “public purposes.’” Pretty explicitly, the board violated the law by giving millions of dollars to a private company’s purposes.
Even if the county were to win on this count, the Goldwater Institute also previously looked to sue based on the county’s violation of the State Constitution’s Gift Clause, which states that the county cannot give or loan credit to a corporation. The deal as it stands necessitates mortgaging county buildings and loaning nearly 20 million dollars of county money to World View, again fairly explicitly violating state law.
Importantly, the county does not even need to win the appeal to work with World View. In fact, the Goldwater Institute said that if the county simply followed the proper procedure to lease the land, they could renegotiate the lease, legally. For the county, this would mean getting the spaceport building appraised, holding a public auction and setting the rate for the lease no lower than 90 percent of its value. These requirements were originally ignored. Now, though, the county can follow these stipulations and legally work with World View.
World View will also likely stay in Tucson despite losing this particular deal with the county. In response to the ruling, the company told NASA that “Our commitment is to continue to work closely with Pima County, the City of Tucson and the State of Arizona to fully realize the vision of a thriving spaceport and aerospace corridor in Southern Arizona.”
The economic benefit to Tucsonans would not diminish if the county doesn’t appeal the case. Although the money that World View uses will likely have to come from its own company or through loans, this would protect Pima County voters in the end. The previous deal did not have any protections if World View defaulted on its end of the deal. Therefore, if it pulled out of the project, Pima County would lose millions of dollars and the taxpayers would be required to make it up.
Renegotiating the deal will leave World View accountable only to itself and the county accountable to its voters. This is likely the best and only feasible option for moving forward with the spaceport.
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