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Goldwater launches suit vs. Pima County balloon deal; officials mum

A rightwing lobbying group has sued Pima County over its backing of the high-altitude technology firm World View. Although officials had blasted back a week before when the Goldwater Institute floated the prospect of suing, the county maintained radio silence after the filing.

Citing "unlawful expenditures," Goldwater alleged the deal to build a facility and lease it to World View for 20 years violates the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution by extending the county's credit to a private company without a public purpose.

The Phoenix-based libertarian thinktank filed the suit Thursday, after providing a copy to some media outlets Wednesday if they promised not to show the document to any county officials.

County insiders grumbled about the propriety of that move, but even though TucsonSentinel.com held back on reporting on the suit to offer the opportunity for a response, no county officials were willing to comment on the lawsuit even 48 hours after the document had been made public.

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County officials dismiss Goldwater questions about World View

Last week, county officials fired back at the suggestion of a suit, detailing their stance that the deal is legal, and mocking Goldwater for focusing on the "space-tourism" aspect of World View's operations while not mentioning the expected economic impact of their plans.

This week, officials declined to comment on the litigation.

In a March 28 letter, Goldwater called on the county to terminate its agreement with World View, a startup that plans to offer top-dollar balloon rides to the stratosphere as a marquee attraction for what will at base be an operation carrying scientific instruments and communications gear to high altitudes.

Pima County has agreed to build a $15 million office and manufacturing facility near Tucson International Airport and Raytheon Missile Systems for World View. The company will pay rent on the plant for two decades, with the county eventually slated to be repaid more than the construction costs and interest, officials have said.

Goldwater, a Phoenix-based libertarian thinktank, said the "agreement serves no public purpose ... nor is the consideration fair to taxpayers."

"The county is using public credit to finance this project at taxpayer risk while a private corporation enjoys the benefits of the bargain risk-free," wrote Goldwater lawyer James Manley.

The suit maintains that World View plans a "an unproven, for-profit luxury adventure-tourism business" that will be facilitated by the county deal. It was filed by Goldwater on behalf of real estate developer Rich Rogers, 5-Star Pest Control owner Shelby Magnuson-Hawkins (although Goldwater repeatedly misspelled her name), and accountant David Preston.

The suit claims that "benefits received by Pima County from this project, if any ever do arise, are grossly disproportionate to the payments Pima County has obligated itself to make and the risks it has undertaken in aid of World View."

Earlier, county officials said Goldwater's suit would fizzle if it were to be filed.

"No reasonable person would argue that the stratosphere will, in the near future, replace Disneyland as a vacation destination for middle-class families. But providing affordable recreational opportunities for county residents, though a legitimate public purpose, is obviously not the public purpose the county is seeking to further in
its transaction with World View," wrote Regina Nassen, a deputy county attorney, in an April 5 letter to Manley.

"The Board approved the transaction with World View as an economic development initiative," she wrote.

"... It is extremely unlikely that a court would find the Goldwater Institute's claims meritorious should a legal action be brought. We therefore urge you to reconsider your proposed course of action, which would simply waste taxpayer dollars by forcing the county to defend a lawsuit," Nassen wrote.

Goldwater suit

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Click image to enlarge

A rendering of the World View balloon.