Florida Senate president Mike Haridopolos, who is also seeking the Republican nomination to run against US Senator Bill Nelson in 2012, called for more support from the federal government for Florida’s space industry in a curious op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday. Haridopolos laments the impending layoff of 1,900 workers at the Kennedy Space Center as the shuttle program retires, but, he notes, since there is “still no clear continuing mission for NASA, contractor United Launch Alliance has no other choice.” Of course, it’s United Space Alliance that is laying off the shuttle workers, not ULA, which operates the Atlas and Delta rockets. He also claims that the $40 million promised to Florida workers last year by the White House has yet to show up, which he calls “a failure of leadership.” (No reason for the missing money is given, but one possibility is that the federal government didn’t have a final FY11 spending bill until last week.)
By contrast, he says, Florida is doing a much better job in supporting its space industry. “Despite limited resources, the Florida Legislature in 2010 increased space-program funding by more than 600 percent,” he writes. Space Florida did get $31 million in 2010, but about two-thirds of that was for one-time initiatives; new governor Rick Scott’s budget proposed $10 million for the agency in 2011, something not mentioned in the op-ed. He also cites “new aerospace jobs” that have come to Florida’s Space Coast as a result of space efforts, but most of the examples he gives are more “aero” than “space”, and some are neither, like 600 jobs for “Associated Telecommunications Management Systems” [sic], a company that is “the largest provider of pre-paid telephone service in the United States”, according to a local jobs site.
Even that $10 million for Space Florida may be in jeopardy. An editorial in Wednesday’s issue of Florida Today raises concerns that Space Florida’s budget could be combined with that other state economic development agencies and put under the direct control of Governor Scott. Citing Scott’s recent controversial decision to unilaterally kill plans for a high-speed rail project in the state, the editorial says, “There’s no reason Scott — who has no knowledge of the space industry and still hasn’t used his office to make a strong space commitment — could not do the same on space, rejecting ventures regardless of their benefit simply because he didn’t like them.” Even if he didn’t, the editorial adds, “the strangling maw of a super bureaucracy” could make it harder to win funding for space efforts in the state. To prevent that from happening, the editorial seeks support from… Sen. Haridopolos, who “should stop him [Scott] to ensure the agency maintains its ability to act quickly and aggressively to seek companies at a time when the shuttle program’s end will be a body slam to the Space Coast’s economy.”