Spaceport scrutiny shield
Bill would curtail access to business, client information including identities, policies
Among several bills attempting to nip into New Mexico’s public-records access law is a piece of legislation that would allow Spaceport America to keep secret a wide range of its business and client information.
Senate Bill 429 proposes a Spaceport Confidential Records Act that would exempt from the Inspection of Public Records Act many aspects of spaceport’s business dealings. The bill is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Public Affairs Committee today.
Under the proposal, prospective and current client information including identities, correspondence, agreements, client names, payments, activities, visitor logs, policies and security protocols could be kept confidential and not viewable or retrievable by the public.
Papen did not respond to requests for comment.
Spaceport’s overall revenue stream as well as its spending could still be made public, according to Spaceport America Executive Director Dan Hicks. He said such confidentiality is expected in the hypercompetitive commercial space industry where spaceport is working to attract clients.
“Having spent 34 years in the Department of Defense, I thought secrecy was big there,” he said. “It is nothing compared to the commercial space industry.”
Many companies in the emerging “new space” industry are upstarts still in the research, development and testing phases where business secrets are closely guarded, said Tammara Anderton, Spaceport vice president of business development.
“When it gets down to doing the deal and we have to put that we are subject to IPRA, then the corporate lawyers go, ‘oh my gosh,’” Anderton said. “It’s a race. It always is. They have competitors; they are trying to keep a cutting edge.”
Gregory Williams, president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, says the bill “is a concern.”
“In a purely private business situation, businesses can often keep information private,” he said. “But this is not purely private; this involves a lot of New Mexico taxpayer money. Anyone who wants to take our state’s money needs to be
Spaceport America is asking the Legislature for $444,000 to fund operations this coming fiscal year, an amount flat with last year.
Residents of two southern New Mexico counties, Sierra and Doña Ana, paid for construction of the $218.5 million facility through gross receipts taxes. More generally, New Mexico taxpayers have paid nearly half a million dollars annually to make up for the revenue shortfall to cover operational costs every year since Spaceport began operations in 2013.
SB 429 could make the spaceport more competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace, in which new spaceports nationwide are competing for limited clients, Hicks said.
Williams said Spaceport needs to “convince us that the overall benefit to the public is better if we have more confidentiality.”
“But just because they are claiming they are at a business disadvantage doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case,” he said. “They are going to have to come forward with more information to demonstrate that confidentiality has a significant impact on their business.”