Sierra County Commission selects Commissioner Jim Paxon to serve on board overseeing Spaceport tax revenues

by Kathleen Sloan | January 12, 2021
3 min read
Spaceport America's self-described "family" as of February 2020. The tax board will soon review a 2017 decision that allows excess gross receipt tax revenues to be used for operations, including salaries. Photograph courtesy of Spaceport America

The Sierra County Commission held a special meeting on Jan. 12 to select a new representative to serve on the Spaceport America Regional Spaceport District board in advance of an expected vote on the allocation of the Spaceport’s gross receipts taxes.

Sierra County Commission Chairperson Jim Paxon was selected, replacing Frances Luna, who finished her eight-year maximum term as a county commissioner at the end of 2020.

At a SARSD board meeting scheduled for Jan. 21, Paxon will join the other five board members in deciding if excess GRT revenue not needed to pay off the yearly debt on the Spaceport’s construction bonds can continue to be used to pay for Spaceport operations, including salaries.

The SARSD board oversees the expenditure of about $7.5 million in GRT revenues dedicated to the Spaceport annually. It consists of two Sierra County commissioners and two Doña Ana commissioners and two other members appointed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to represent each of the counties. The governor’s most recent appointees were named in July 2020.

The Sierra County Commissioners are Jim Paxon and Travis Day. Sidney Bryan, a Truth or Consequences real estate broker, is the Sierra County governor-appointee.

The Doña Ana Commissioners are Shannon Reynolds and Lynn Ellins. Wayne Savage, executive director of Arrowhead Research Park at New Mexico State University, is the Doña Ana County governor-appointee.

The Spaceport America Regional Spaceport District was formed by state laws 5-16-1 through 5-16-13 in 2005, with Sierra County choosing to join the district in 2008, along with Doña Ana County, which joined in 2007.

Desiring to become part of the district for economic development reasons, each county had to pass a gross receipts tax dedicated to the Spaceport at the polls. The tax could not exceed half a penny on each dollar of commercial purchases, according to the law. Both counties succeeded in passing a .25 GRT tax that expires in 2028.

Doña Ana County now collects about $7 million and Sierra County about $500,000 in Spaceport GRT a year.

The state law governing the Spaceport GRT—7-20E-25B—requires at least 75 percent of the proceeds go to the “financing, planning, designing and engineering and construction of a spaceport or for projects or services of the district pursuant to the Regional Spaceport District Act.” It further stipulates that no more than 25 percent of the revenue can be spent for “spaceport-related projects, as approved by resolution of the governing body of the county.”

Sierra and Doña Ana county commissions passed resolutions designating that 25 percent of the GRT proceeds go to educational purposes. The counties disburse this revenue stream.

The remaining 75 percent of the proceeds goes to the New Mexico Finance Authority, the counties having signed intercept agreements with NMFA that will pay off the Spaceport’s construction bond debt. The bond debt principal is about $115 million, with about $70 million still to be paid.

The NMFA will give a report on the bond debt at the upcoming SARSD board meeting.   

The board last met on June 12, 2017, according to Sierra County Commissioner Travis Day. In an interview with the Sun on Jan. 12, Day agreed the SARSD Board is required to meet once a year, but has not done so. “This will be my first meeting,” Day said, although he has served as a county commissioner since January 2019.

During the June 12, 2017, meeting, the SARSD board voted to permit the expenditure of excess GRT for operations.

Day told his fellow county commissioners at their special meeting today he expects the SARSD Board meeting “will be contentious.” In December, the Doña Ana County Commission passed a resolution stating that excess GRT should not go to Spaceport operations.

“Not only that,” Day said to the Sun, “they want to be paid back the money that has been spent on operations.”

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
Share this:

Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.


“Spacepork” nickname borne out in investigation into wrongdoing by former Spaceport director Dan Hicks
by Kathleen Sloan | November 24, 2020

According to a forensic audit released today, Hicks took advantage of the lack of board oversight to engage in questionable management practices ranging from excessive...

Spaceport America to repair nine-year-old operations center without seeking reimbursement
by Kathleen Sloan | December 15, 2020

Nor will existing multimillion-dollar "visitor experience" plans be used for a new technology and reception building.

T or C is again promoting a second, northern Spaceport visitors’ center, but is Spaceport America?
by Kathleen Sloan | October 19, 2020

The Truth or Consequences City Commission passed a resolution expressing support for a spaceport visitors’ center located north, near Interstate 25, but the New Mexico...

Scroll to Top