NM Receives Bleak Revenue Forecast, WIPP Shipments To Resume In April

Feb 15, 2017

New Mexico Receives Bleak Revenue Forecast The Associated Press

A top budget negotiator in the New Mexico House of Representatives says a dire revenue forecast for the coming fiscal year remains unchanged after a review by state economists.

House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairwoman Patricia Lundstrom told the Associated Press on Wednesday that a new revenue estimate from economists at four agencies leaves a $125 million shortfall for the state to maintain current services.

The Democrat from Gallup says closing that gap would require an additional 2 percent overall cut to agency spending if no new taxes or other revenues are approved for the budget year starting July 1.

The state is struggling to pay its bills and sustain basic government programs amid plunging tax revenues tied to a downturn in the oil sector and a sluggish overall economy.

Shipments To Nuclear Waste Repository To Resume In April – Associated Press

The U.S. Energy Department expects shipments to the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository to resume in April.

Officials said Tuesday they have plans for nearly 130 shipments from laboratories and other national defense sites over the next year. Those sites must demonstrate that they're ready to load the radioactive waste and that it meets new safety requirements.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was forced to close in February 2014 after an inappropriately packed drum of waste ruptured, contaminating part of the underground facility in southern New Mexico. Some operations resumed in December after an expensive recovery effort.

Over the last three years, tons of waste left over from decades of nuclear weapon research and development has stacked up at sites around the country, hampering the government's multibillion-dollar cleanup program.

Developers Moving Forward With New Mexico Power Grid Project – The Associated Press

Developers of what was once a $1.5 billion effort to link the nation's three major electricity grids through a transmission hub in eastern New Mexico say the project is still moving forward despite the relinquishment of a lease covering thousands of acres of state trust land.

The State Land Office suggested late Tuesday that the Tres Amigas project had folded.

Tres Amigas chief financial officer Russell Stidolph says the company isn't abandoning the project.

He says advances in technology and changes in the business model have reduced the amount of land required and that Tres Amigas has identified a significantly smaller parcel of land in Curry County as a backup site.

The project was first announced in 2009 as a way to get more renewable energy to market.

Former New Mexico House Speaker Withdraws From Regents PostAssociated Press

Former New Mexico House Speaker Don Tripp has withdrawn his name from consideration for a spot on the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.

The former Republican lawmaker cited legal concerns about his appointment last month by Gov. Susana Martinez. He pointed to a section of the state Constitution that prevents legislators from being appointed to any civil post in state government during their term or within one year of serving.

Tripp was re-elected in November but resigned on the opening day of the Legislature.

He said Tuesday that he didn't want his appointment to be a distraction for the regents or the university.

Martinez has appointed Alex Romero to the board. He's the chief executive officer of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

Like other gubernatorial appointments, regent appointees are subject to state Senate confirmation.

Lawmakers Consider Naming Green Chile Burger State BurgerThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal 

A New Mexico lawmaker wants to make the state's relationship with the green chile cheeseburger official.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, is sponsoring a bill that would name the green chile cheeseburger the state's official burger.

McQueen says he got inspiration for the bill during last year's Legislative session when someone delivered plain burgers for a working lunch. He thought they should have been green chile cheeseburgers.

The bill is currently in the committee stage. If it passes, the green chile cheeseburger would join a list of symbols including the roadrunner as the state bird, the hot air balloon as the state aircraft and "red or green?" as the state question.

El Paso Electric Eyes Another Rate Increase In New Mexico Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A utility company that serves around 400,000 customers in southern New Mexico is eyeing another rate hike this spring.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that El Paso Electric hasn't determined how large of an increase it will seek in New Mexico. But El Paso Electric vice president Eddie Gutierrez says it would likely mirror the one submitted this week to the Texas Public Utility Commission.

That request seeks an overall $42.5 million increase in revenues, or an 8.7 percent increase, for Texas customers.

Last June, El Paso Electric sought and received a $1.1 million rate increase in New Mexico.

New Mexico GOP Says Democrat Failed To Report ConflictBy Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The Republican Party of New Mexico is criticizing the Democratic leader of the state House of Representatives for not disclosing his work as an attorney for a licensed marijuana producer as the Legislature considers several cannabis-related bills.

State GOP spokesman Tucker Keene said Tuesday that House Speaker Brian Egolf failed to mention in a state financial disclosure statement that he represented a marijuana producer in a lawsuit against the state.

Egolf says he complied with disclosure requirements by listing each state agency before which he has represented a client, and that he sees no conflict in acting on marijuana-related legislation that is not specific to his client.

Egolf said he has no plans to recuse himself from acting on bills to legalize marijuana and increase crop limits for medical marijuana.

Tribes Expect Job Losses After Closure Of Navajo Coal Plant - By Clarice Silber, Associated Press

Communities on the Navajo and Hopi Nations are bracing for what they say will be devastating economic fallout after the owners of a coal-fired power plant decided to close the location.

The decision announced Monday to close the Navajo Generating Station in 2019 would lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs, including at a coal mine that supplies the fuel for the plant.

Hopi Tribal Chairman Herman Honanie said the tribes are concerned with the severe impact the shutdown will have on their already struggling communities and revenue. Honanie said the Hopi Tribe derives at least 80 percent of its revenue from the sites.

Environmentalists are calling the closure an important moment.  Jihan Gearon of the Black Mesa Water Coalition said the plant's water pollution and heavy mining of coal from the ground hurt the environment.

New Mexico Not Backing Down From Mine Spill SuitAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says he's not backing down from the legal battle over a mine waste spill that fouled rivers in three Western states.

Attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department are asking that claims made by the state and the Navajo Nation in the wake of the 2015 spill in southern Colorado be dismissed.

Balderas said Tuesday he will continue to seek justice for the region's culturally unique population and the damaged economy.

In a lawsuit filed last year, New Mexico said the environmental effects of the spill were far worse than claimed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state is seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages.

The owners of two mines also are named as defendants.

New Mexico Braces For New Forecast On Tax Revenues – Associated Press

New Mexico state lawmakers are bracing for an update on how much money will be available in the coming fiscal year to fund state government.

Democratic state Sen. John Arthur Smith says he is scheduled Wednesday to receive a new forecast of expected revenues from taxes, fees and other sources.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee warned earlier this week that the state may need to fill a budget gap of $250 million in order to rebuild reserves and protect the state's credit rating.

Amid a downturn in the local oil sector, New Mexico has cut back spending at most agencies and has swept cash from school district reserves and other government accounts.

Gov. Susana Martinez has urged lawmakers to avoid tax increases and to tighten government spending.

Initiative Seeks Rooftop Solar On New Mexico State Buildings Associated Press

A bill designed to spur the installation of rooftop solar arrays on state government buildings in New Mexico has cleared its first hurdle in the state Legislature.

A Senate panel on conservation matters endorsed the bill Tuesday. The initiative from Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces would direct the state General Services Department to pursue contracts with solar providers that can save the state money on electricity costs over time with no up-front public investment.

Steinborn says the agency oversees more than 750 state buildings and that currently only two are equipped to generate solar electricity.

In written comments on the bill, the General Services Department says that developing renewable-energy contract guidelines will put a strain on its administrative staff and construction project managers.

Santa Fe Committee Affirms Immigrant-Friendly Policies Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A Santa Fe City Council committee has approved a resolution that affirms the city's immigrant-friendly policies.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that on Monday the City Finance committee unanimously approved a softened version of the resolution that is aimed at not starting a fight with President Donald Trump. The president has promised to punish local governments that don't help federal authorities increase enforcement of immigration laws.

The resolution includes policy changes designed to protect residents' sensitive personal importation, including keeping a person's immigration status confidential except as required by law.

The original resolution called Santa Fe a "sanctuary city" but in recent weeks the word "sanctuary" was removed. Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities.

The resolution next heads to the Public Safety Committee.