Sitting atop a surplus in the tens of billions of dollars, Texas has the means to devote taxpayer revenue to nearly anything lawmakers’ hearts desire. But of all the unwise spending proposals kicking around the capitol, appropriating $350 million to create “The Texas Space Commission to support the development of a coordinated strategic plan that will position Texas as a global leader in space travel, research, and technology” is perhaps the worst.
Let’s start with the obvious: Texas is already a a global leader in space travel, research, and technology. Judged by location quotient for employment in the manufacture of aerospace products and parts, the Lone Star State — dismissed by coastal elites for decades as little more than cattle, cotton, and oil — surpasses the national mark. In the American Southwest, its score of 1.15 beats Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. California is easily within striking distance. And given its booming startup scene, rest assured that Texas will soon join the ranks of Oklahoma, Utah, and Arizona as an aerospace mega-star.
In 1987, lawmakers created the Texas Space Commission “to encourage economic development of industries related to the commercialization of space.” But the private sector’s dominance of the heavens was still decades away. NASA wouldn’t relinquish its stranglehold on launching payloads to orbit, D.C.’s regulatory system for companies to sell space-transportation services hadn’t been developed, and Elon Musk was a teenager in Pretoria.
In 1993, the Texas Space Commission became the Texas Aerospace Commission, which in 2003 got folded into the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office, housed within the governor’s office.
A funny thing happened, as government’s interest and “investment” dwindled: industry in the state boomed. Elon Musk began testing rockets in McGregor. Jeff Bezos turned a property near Van Horn into his own private spaceport. Indigenous companies began to spring up. Nanoracks. Firefly Aerospace. Intuitive Machines. Axiom Space. Slingshot Aerospace. AST SpaceMobile.
Then there’s Starbase. SpaceX’s launch facility, located at the southernmost tip of the state, could well become the planet’s busiest spaceport. (Yes, it received both local and state subsidies, but given favorable geography and the company’s desire to have a launch facility free from total federal control, it’s likely that Musk would have gone ahead with the Boca Chica site absent a relatively small amount of taxpayer largesse.)
In order to keep Texas a major player in commercial space, the state should keep doing what it’s doing. Resist every attempt to impose a higher tax burden, and relentlessly pursue cuts to existing levies. Retain its right-to-work law. Continue to push forward with school-choice reforms that will attract space entrepreneurs seeking to tap a dynamic workforce.
And learn from the mistakes of others. The list of failures in state-level space corporatism is long. Texas can look east to see the boondoggle that is “Spaceport America,” built for an erratic, attention-desperate billionaire whose suborbital-tourism company has achieved very close to nothing. (Less publicized are New Mexico’s many other boneheaded space subsidies, doled out to everything from a Romanian grifter’s “company” to a “revolutionary kinetic launch system” that many engineers consider to be a deathtrap.) The Oklahoma Air and Space Port is another white elephant haunting a neighbor. And staying in-state, millions of dollars in “economic incentives” were pledged to XCOR Aerospace to leave California and set up shop at the Midland International Air and Space Port. Five years later, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Texas has every reason to be proud of its commercial-space sector. But “support” with public dollars is completely unnecessary, invites cronyism and corruption, and is likely to produce ample waste and abuse. Separate space and state!