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New Mexico Voters Decide Tax To Build Tourist Spaceport

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) _ Residents of a southern New Mexico county were divided Tuesday on a tax that would help pay for a commercial spaceport that could one day turn the area into a hub for space tourism.

With all precincts reporting, unofficial results from the county's bureau of elections show those in favor of the tax increase outnumbered opponents of the measure by a mere 204 votes, but election workers were still counting another 541 provisional ballots.

``It's going to depend on how those provisionals go,'' said Lynn Ellins, supervisor of the county's elections bureau.

At issue was a gross-receipts tax of one-quarter of 1 percent for the $198 million project planned by Virgin Galactic. British entrepreneur Richard Branson and the state of New Mexico have already signed an agreement setting lease terms.

If Dona Ana County voters approve the tax, about $49 million in bonds would be generated for the state to build Spaceport America. If they reject it, the project could falter.

Supporters envision roads, launchpads and giant runways, with customers pouring in to experience six minutes of weightlessness and a view of Earth they had seen before only in photos.

The spaceport would be built with a combination of federal, state and local money, but most from the state. The planned complex would cover 27 square miles near White Sands Missile Range, where the U.S. launched its first rocket after World War II.

The agreement between Branson and the state isn't legally binding, but state Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said he expects a lease to be signed within three months.
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