Lawmakers Suing Gov. Martinez Over Vetoes, Energy Compnay Strikes Deal In NM

Apr 14, 2017

New Mexico Budget Crisis Heads Toward CourtBy Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers authorized plans to sue Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to block vetoes that would defund state universities and colleges along with the legislative branch of government, amid an unrelenting standoff Thursday over how to shore up state finances.

The Legislative Council of leading state lawmakers directed attorneys to quickly pursue litigation on several fronts, including challenges to any vetoes that affect core functions of state government.

Senate President Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces said lawmakers were turning to the judiciary to preserve a "strong system of checks and balances."

Martinez has rejected an array of tax increases in response to wilting state revenues, and last week struck from the state budget $745 million in funding to state institutions of higher education and the Legislature's operating budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Leading Democrats and many Republican lawmakers are backing tax hikes that would increase the cost of gasoline or online purchases to avoid further cuts to public school funding or reserves.

Martinez held budget talks in her offices Thursday with Majority Leader Peter Wirth and House Speaker Brian Egolf, both Democrats, without apparent progress toward an agreement.

Energy Company Strikes $3 Billion Deal In New MexicoThe Associated Press & The Daily Times Reporter

Energy company ConocoPhillip has sold its assets in northwest New Mexico for $3 billion.

The Daily Times reported Thursday that a Hilcorp Energy Company affiliate purchased the property.

ConocoPhillip has been operating in the area for more than 50 years. The company announced intentions to sell last November.

According to the report, Hilcorp is one of the largest privately-held independent oil and natural gas exploration and production companies in the country.

The company says it strives to support the communities it operates in by providing jobs, stimulating the economy and supporting local causes.

Navajo President Seeks Closure In Case Of Slain OfficerThe Associated Press

The president of the Navajo Nation says he hopes the case against a man accused of gunning down a tribal police officer doesn't languish in the federal court system.

Navajo President Russell Begaye urged the court to move forward and bring closure in a statement issued Friday, a day after Kirby Cleveland was indicted on murder and other charges stemming from the March 11 shooting of Officer Houston James Largo.

Cleveland has yet to enter a plea and remains in custody pending trial. His arraignment is scheduled for April 20 at the federal courthouse in Albuquerque.

Officials say U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will decide whether to seek life or death if Cleveland is convicted of the most serious charges.

Begaye says the officer's family and the Navajo Nation are still mourning.

Feds Roll Out Good News On New Mexico Water Front - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Federal water managers say snowpack in the mountains that feed the Rio Chama and Rio Grande were above average this winter, meaning water users downstream in New Mexico can expect a full allotment this year.

The Bureau of Reclamation outlined its expectations for water supplies and management along the river system that flows through some of the state's most populated areas during a meeting Thursday in Albuquerque.

The forecast is based on snowpack, soil moisture and climate predictions, but officials acknowledged it's still a best-guess and that things can change.

Bureau hydrologist Ed Kandl says this year looks to be the best in terms of water availability since 2008.

Snowpack in the Sangre del Cristos and other spots further south are below average thanks in part to a warm March.

UNM Dropping Ski Programs Over Budget CutsAssociated Press

The University of New Mexico is dropping its men's and women's ski programs due to rising costs and impending budget cuts.

UNM Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs made the announcement Thursday.

The decision will save the school's athletic department about $600,000 per year in operating budget, scholarships and salaries.

The cuts will reduce UNM's sports programs from 22 to 20.

School officials say skiing scholarships will be honored through undergraduate degree or exhausted eligibility for any student-athletes that wish to continue their education at UNM provided they remain eligible in accordance with UNM and NCAA rules.

They say Lobo athletics will also assist any student-athlete wishing to transfer to another institution.

Lawyers Ask Case Against Former Santa Fe Deputy Be DroppedAssociated Press

The lawyers for a former New Mexico deputy accused of killing his partner in 2014 are asking the court to dismiss their client's case.

The defense attorneys for former Santa Fe deputy Tai Chan filed motions Wednesday that claim their client is a victim of outrageous government conduct in what they call a botched investigation by Las Cruces Police Department.

The attorneys are also asking District Attorney Mark D'Antonio be dismissed from the case. The motions argue that D'Antonio has a conflict of interest in the case because of a related lawsuit filed by another detective.

The District Attorney's Office has declined to comment.

Chan accused of killing Deputy Jeremy Martin. Officials say the two had an alcohol-fueled argument on October 2014 before Chan fatally shot Martin.

Game Over For Middle School Athletics In Albuquerque - Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Athletics are losing out in the competition for limited dollars as one of the nation's largest school districts prepares for an anticipated 2 percent cut in state funding.

Albuquerque Public Schools announced Thursday it's dropping its middle-school athletics program because of anticipated funding cuts linked to New Mexico's state budget crisis.

School district spokeswoman Monica Armenta said eliminating after-school intermural volleyball, basketball, and track and field will save up to $750,000 next school year and help avoid classroom cuts. Teachers would lose coaching stipends and short-term coaching contracts would be eliminated.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and the Democrat-led Legislature are locked in a standoff over how to fill a $156 million budget shortfall and protect the state's credit rating.

Task Force To Review Juvenile Justice System In New MexicoAssociated Press

New Mexico's juvenile justice system is going under the microscope as part of a comprehensive review to be carried out by a special task force of judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and others.

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil and officials with the state's child welfare agency launched the task force Thursday with an initial meeting in Albuquerque. Vigil says more meetings and focus groups are planned over the next several months as the group analyzes data and considers policy changes.

New Mexico is one of only two states selected by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to receive technical assistance for the initiative. Nevada is the other.

Nationwide, various states have been looking for alternatives that respond to youth crime while improving the outcome for those offenders.

US Indictment Charges Man With Murder In Killing Of OfficerAssociated Press

A Navajo Nation man has been charged with murder and other crimes in the March 11 killing of a tribal police officer.

A federal indictment announced Thursday charges 32-year-old Kirby Cleveland with three types of murder plus escape and firearms counts.

The murder and weapons charges stem from the killing of Officer Houston James Largo. He was gunned down after he stopped a vehicle on a dark road while responding to a domestic violence call in rural New Mexico.

An escape charge alleges Cleveland escaped Feb. 26 from a halfway house.

Officials say U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will decide whether to seek life or death if Cleveland is convicted of the most serious charges.

A defense attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.

Company Wants Lower Groundwater Contamination StandardsGallup Independent, Associated Press

A company wants New Mexico to set a lower standard for groundwater contamination at the site of a uranium mine it has spent more than a decade cleaning up.

The Gallup Independent reports United Nuclear Corp. is asking state regulators to approve a variance thousands of times above current groundwater standards. The New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission scheduled a public hearing for next month.

The company operated the St. Anthony Mine from 1975-1981 and started cleaning up the site in 2004. It consists of two open pits and one underground mine.

The New Mexico Environment Department is recommending the commission accept the alternate limits.

Monitoring wells continue to show groundwater being affected by levels of contaminants.