Imagine a school district asking the state for money to build a new high school when they cannot prove any students will attend. "Build it and they will come!" the district claims. The state says no, but a powerful U.S. senator funnels construction funds to the project through a federal agency. The school is built and fully staffed from administrators to teachers to custodians. Unfortunately, only a few students ever show up, and then only occasionally.
So the district, using state and federal handouts, decides to add a gym and a pool and more lockers to attract students. Students still show up infrequently; at one point the school is empty for almost three years. The feds pay the cost for a few years, but finally pull out when the powerful senator leaves office. The district appeals to the state for money to keep the school open just in case some students decide to show up. Who would support funding for such a school?
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority would not loan money to build the Kodiak Launch Complex in the mid-1990s because the Alaska Aerospace Corp. could not produce confirmed launch business. Sen. Ted Stevens, however, directed construction money through the Department of Defense to build it, which the U.S. Air Force did not want.
AAC has expanded KLC infrastructure with state and federal handouts based on a business plan of "Build it and they will come." The Missile Defense Agency propped it up for a few years while Senator Stevens was in office, paying AAC to keep the facility open in case they wanted to launch a rocket, but dropped the contract and abandoned use of the facility when Stevens left office. In December 2008, AAC President Tom Case, using the optimistic, unrealistic rhetoric AAC is known for, proclaimed: "We (AAC) are on the tipping point of being able to break out into a significant aerospace industry in Alaska." The result: no launches in 2009, one in 2010, one in 2011, and none since. A single launch may take place in spring or August or November 2014, depending on which source you read.
Since launch revenues have never covered the cost of keeping the KLC open, Alaska Aerospace has continually asked for state and federal bailouts from its inception in 1998. Despite no launches since 2011, AAC has asked Governor Parnell (page 10) to support a $6 million handout for the fiscal year 2015 budget (page 40). Corporate welfare is counter to the fiscal responsibility we, the voters, expect from our elected representatives.
The KLC is like an old truck I owned that was falling apart. With each repair, I figured that now the truck would run fine and I was done. Yet, it continually broke down and I kept pouring money into it, thinking that each repair would be the last. I loved that old pickup, and didn't want to let it go. Granted, local auto shops and towing services realized some economic benefits from my holding on to it. But I finally realized that I was throwing my money away on a truck that hardly ever ran and I got rid of it.
Stop throwing money away on "Space Pork Kodiak." It has sat rusting at Narrow Cape in Kodiak for sixteen years, never breaking even, costing the state more and more money while providing minimal returns and economic benefits to our community and our state. Including construction costs, the Kodiak Launch Complex has received well over $60 million in handouts from the state and federal governments. It is time to stop wasting state funds when we face budget cuts diminishing income, and deficit spending. We should spend our dwindling state funds on programs, agencies, and infrastructure that provide direct benefits to all Alaskans.
Mike Sirofchuck is a founding member of the Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group, which has followed the KLC issue since 1995. He has lived in Kodiak since 1987. KRLIG maintains a blog online.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.