While some observers may have pondered the wonder of a billionaire flying into space, the suborbital venture by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos triggered US Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) to call for a tax on such travel.
“Space exploration isn’t a tax-free holiday for the wealthy,” Blumenauer, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some.
Blumenauer’s statement came just before Bezos and three other passengers took part in the first manned space mission by the billionaire’s Blue Origin rocket-ship firm. The team landed in West Texas after briefly floating in space. Just nine days earlier, fellow billionaire Richard Branson completed a similar suborbital flight by his spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic.
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The Oregon politician’s proposed tax, which he called for in a bill named the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act, would seem to fit with the typical Democrat strategy of exploiting class tensions. Bezos, who ranks as the world’s richest person, and Branson had already drawn criticism for using their wealth to fly into space, rather than investing in helping people. The Amazon founder riled critics further when, on returning to Earth, he thanked employees and customers by saying, “You guys paid for all this.”
But Blumenauer’s plan could also be a significant revenue generator for the government if space tourism becomes as big as Branson, Bezos, and another billionaire rocket-ship entrepreneur, Elon Musk, have predicted.
The congressman has clearly thought the issue through. He noted that while transatlantic airline flights have similar carbon footprints to suborbital trips, space launches generate 60 times the per-passenger emissions. And with Virgin Galactic looking to send a load of tourists into space every 32 hours, the numbers could add up.
Blumenauer said the new tax should be applied on a per-passenger basis and vary based on altitude. Flights going more than 80 miles above the Earth’s surface, such as the suborbital trip Bezos enjoyed on Tuesday, would be taxed higher.
NASA flights for scientific-research purposes would be exempt from the levy. In cases where some passengers were working on behalf of NASA for scientific advancement, the tax would be levied only on those travelers just along for a joy ride.
“Things that are done purely for tourism or entertainment and that don’t have a scientific purpose should in turn support the public good,” Blumenauer said.
I just announced my Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act.Space travel isn’t a tax-free holiday for the wealthy.We pay taxes on plane tickets. Billionaires flying into space—producing no scientific value—should do the same, and then some! #SPACETax?
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) July 20, 2021
Members of Congress have also begun thinking about regulating space tourism, prompted by concerns over public safety and air traffic congestion, but a moratorium on such rule-making has been put in place until 2023 to encourage innovation.
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