Republicans in an Arizona U.S. Senate race are distorting the details of a development deal for a high-altitude balloon company co-founded by Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate for the seat. Contrary to their TV and online ads, Kelly’s company didn’t get $15 million from taxpayers and give nothing back except “hot air.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally have run similar attack ads about Kelly’s involvement with World View, a space technology company.
Kelly is challenging McSally, who was appointed to the Senate seat in late 2018, in a special election that will determine who finishes the term of the late Sen. John McCain. It’s a crucial race as Republicans rush to confirm President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee because the winner could be seated as soon as Nov. 30.
A look at the claims:
NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: “In Tucson, Mark Kelly’s company promised 400 jobs to get $15 million bucks from taxpayers. That promise? Just hot air.”
THE FACTS: That’s a misrepresentation of a deal that Pima County government officials struck with World View, which makes and uses high-altitude balloons that collect data from above Earth’s surface.
Rather than hand over money to the company from taxpayers, Pima County offered to build a new headquarters, manufacturing facility and launch pad in order to entice the company to stay, when it was considering relocating from Tucson, Arizona, in 2016.
The county agreed to spend up to $15 million - plus $5 million in interest over time - on the new facilities. World View didn’t get the new digs for free. It pays rent to the county.
Four years into the deal, World View has so far paid over $2.3 million to Pima County, according to John Moffatt, the county’s economic development director. In April, the county started deferring rent payments from its tenants, including World View, because of the coronavirus pandemic. By the time World View’s 20-year lease is up, it is scheduled to have paid the county more than $23 million for rent, according to county documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
World View, however, hasn’t met the rosy job projections the company initially made when the county offered to build its headquarters.
County documents and other statements show World View predicted it would have as many as 448 people employed by 2020. Instead, it has 78 full-time employees and an additional 33 who were furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the company said in an email.
The county’s deal with World View requires that the company have 100 full-time employees making an average salary of $50,000 by next year, Moffatt said. The average World View employee makes $103,555, according to the company’s latest filing with the county in June.
Moffatt said the launch pad the county paid for is considered a public facility, with one other company having already used it for a promotional campaign. The county hopes that nearby aeronautical universities, defense companies and government agencies will also use the launch pad.
“It’s constant,” Moffatt said of TV ads running about World View in the Senate race. “And they continue to misrepresent. Pima County gets painted black with this, too.”
Kelly was part of a team of founders who started the company in 2012; he ran its flight crew operations. He has since left. Kelly maintains a “minimal financial stake,” the company said in a statement.
EDITOR’S NOTE - A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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