New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation into law on Wednesday that will allow his state to begin investing millions of dollars in a facility to launch tourists into space.
"These bills will help create tremendous economic impact for New Mexico, and particularly Southern New Mexico," Richardson said in a statement on the planned spaceport in Upham near the White Sands Missile Range.
"This is a unique opportunity for New Mexico to be on the ground floor of a new industry that will bring new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state's economy forward," he added.
Helping fund the facility, estimated to cost $225 million, was a priority during the state's recent legislative session for Richardson, who wants to help British entrepreneur Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic build the spaceport.
One of the bills that Richardson signed allows local governments to impose a local-option gross receipts tax levy to provide money for the spaceport — revenue that New Mexico officials estimate could amount to $10 million to $12 million a year. Another measure shifts to the Spaceport Authority the functions previously handled by the spaceport commercialization division in the Economic Development Department.
Separately, the Legislature approved $100 million in state funding for the spaceport over three years, as part of a more than $700 million capital improvement financing measure. The governor has until March 8 to act on that bill, and he has said he will likely cut millions of dollars from the measure using his line-item veto powers.
Lawmakers previously provided $10 million for spaceport development. To bring the total up to $225 million, state officials are planning to seek federal money as well as the state and local funds.
Virgin Galactic has agreed to pay millions of dollars in leasing fees once the spaceport is completed, most likely in late 2009 or early 2010.
This report includes information from Reuters, The Associated Press and MSNBC.com.