“They launch those rockets out over the ocean,” Wright said, “because every once in a while, one doesn't make it. It blows up.”
Wright also noted millions in taxpayer credits had been provided to Rocketplane “and we have zero people yet that have launched into outer space. I do think they tied a bunch of balloons to something and sent it up to the stratosphere,” Wright said, “but you can do that from your back yard.”
The problem with these projects is not that they were infeasible only in hindsight, but that state officials had reason for skepticism at the time credits were provided.
When citizens have reason to think companies like Rocketplane and Virgin Galactic are gaming the system at taxpayer expense, it casts a shadow over all state and local development efforts. That's unfortunate, because not every government incentive is a boondoggle enriching only the favored few.
The New Mexico and Burns Flat spaceport programs demonstrate the continuing importance of thorough review of state business incentives. Oklahomans can be glad we didn't waste as much money as New Mexico, but that's small consolation. Tax policy should encourage broad economic growth, not capitalize politically favored companies.
As they conduct that review, lawmakers should keep in mind another of Wright's admonitions: “What we seek to do should be done in such a way that, at the end of the day, we are getting some bang for the peoples' buck.”