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Lawmakers Want State to Invest More in Space Industry

In a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom last week, 40 House members and the state’s two senators emphasized the need for greater state leadership and continued investment, which they said will bring high-paying jobs and large economic growth to California.

Several dozen members of California’s congressional delegation have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to prioritize investment in the space industry, part of a move among leaders responding to recent job cuts and funding shortfalls.

In their letter last week, 40 House members and the state’s two senators emphasized the need for greater state leadership and continued investment, which they said will bring to California high-paying jobs and large economic growth.

“With the increased cadence in commercial, national security and civil space launch, there is not a better time to position California to be a global leader in the space economy,” the lawmakers said.

Because the state is already home to several federal space facilities, including Vandenberg Space Force Base, the Los Angeles Air Force Base, NASA facilities including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Ames Research Center as well as a strong satellite manufacturing industry, lawmakers said: “California is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the rapidly growing space economy.”

Since 2019, California has invested $625 million in more than 25 counties in the defense and space industry through various programs, said Newsom spokesperson Omar Rodriguez, including those that offer tax credits to businesses based in the state.

Some examples are California Competes, an income tax credit available to businesses that want to come to California or stay in the state; the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority, which offers a tax exclusion to manufacturers of products that reduce pollution and energy use; and the Employment Training Panel, a workforce training program that provides financial assistance to California businesses, said Rodriguez.

In 2022, California launched the California Space Industry Task Force, aimed at pursuing opportunities to “harness future growth in the space industry,” according to Newsom’s office, through efforts such as expanding aerospace research and working with universities to strengthen their career pipeline into the industry.

The task force convenes government and industry leaders regularly to strengthen commercial space industry in the state, said Rhys Williams, Newsom’s chief deputy Cabinet secretary.

Despite those efforts, companies have uprooted their headquarters or parts of their businesses from California, partly due to the state’s heavy regulation of public and private companies as well as the high cost of doing business.

In response to the lawmakers, Williams said Newsom is “committed to expanding the state’s role in our nation’s space ecosystem.”

“California’s innovation is not limited to Earth,” he said. “California looks forward to working with state and federal leaders to continue growing and leading the nation’s commercial space sector.”

Many of the lawmakers noted that they were motivated by a desire to preserve space industry jobs within their districts and California as a whole.

It was just last month when JPL in Pasadena laid off more than 500 people, about 8 percent of the lab’s total staffing.

At the time, JPL Director Laurie Leshin, in breaking the news to the staff at JPL, wrote, “These cuts are among the most challenging that we have had to make even as we have sought to reduce our spending in recent months.”

Leshin noted that the lab was waiting on Congress for funding for the much-publicized Mars Sample Return mission — an effort to retrieve soil and rock samples collected by a Mars rover and return them to Earth for study. But officials were already under the gun to cut costs, leading to a hiring freeze, a reduction in some MSR mission contracts, budget cuts and elimination of some on-site contractors.

She noted that NASA previously told JPL to expect an MSR budget of $300 million, a 63 percent drop from the previous year.

When Congress passed last-minute funding bills earlier this month, Sen. Alex Padilla noted that the approved funding agreement that “provides no less than $300 million in funding for the Mars Sample Return Program” was “a step in the right direction” to ensure California’s leading position in the industry.

(c)2024 San Gabriel Valley Tribune, West Covina. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.