UNM Looking To Tighten Its Budget, State Cash Reserves Threatened

Mar 30, 2017

University Of New Mexico Looking To Tighten Its BudgetThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Acting University President Chaouki Abdallah says it's time to tighten the University of New Mexico's purse strings.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Abdallah spoke at a campus town hall meeting last week and told the audience that less state funding and enrollment declines have caused the university to exercise money-saving measures at a campus town hall meeting this week.

With the university expecting state funding to drop again this year, Abdallah is looking into everything from employee furloughs to consolidating UNM's class schedule into four days. The university has already implemented a hiring freeze.

New Mexico state government is facing its own budget crunch. Lawmakers said earlier this month that without new revenue streams, additional funding cuts to public school and state agencies are inevitable.

New Mexico Cash Reserves Threatened Amid State Budget FightThe Associated Press

Concerns about New Mexico's short-term cash reserves are taking center stage as state lawmakers await anticipated veto decisions by Gov. Susana Martinez on a budget for the coming fiscal year.

Top finance officials for Martinez said Wednesday that a $102 million operating reserve cushion will leave the state perilously close to insolvency when the fiscal year ends in June. Martinez is preparing plans to possibly furlough state government workers as soon as April and reduce the number of days that state museums, parks and motor vehicle offices are open to the public.

Leading lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Legislature are questioning whether the Republican governor's warnings of a government shutdown are justified or amount to a bargaining tactic in the larger state budget standoff. Legislators are concerned about dwindling state cash accounts as the federal government delays a major payment on an oil and gas lease sale.

Detective Says Resources Were Denied In Deputy Shooting CaseLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A detective assigned to investigate a 2014 deadly shooting involving two Santa Fe County sheriff's deputies says she was deliberately obstructed by her supervisors because she had previously reported sexual misconduct within the detectives' unit at the Las Cruces Police Department.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Detective Irma Palos leveled the allegations in a whistleblower lawsuit filed last fall.

The retrial of Tai Chan, the former deputy accused of killing his partner, is set for May. Authorities have said the shooting followed an alcohol-fueled argument during a stopover in Las Cruces while the deputies were transporting an inmate.

Palos' allegations call into question the integrity of the investigation.

The city of Las Cruces in a separate court filing disputes the accusations. The city wants Palos' complaint to be dismissed.

Police: Bogus Money Being Circulated In New Mexico, Arizona Associated Press

Authorities in New Mexico and Arizona are warning the public about counterfeit money that is being passed around.

Roswell police say multiple local businesses have been victimized the past few days when fake bills in denominations ranging from 10s to 100s were used to purchase items.

In Arizona, Mohave County Sheriff's officials say bogus currency has been passed in Lake Havasu City the past few weeks.

Investigators believe the counterfeit bills in both states are coming from or being produced by the same source.

They say all of the bills have what looks like Asian writing in a reddish color on parts of them.

The writing has been scratched out on some bills.

In addition, authorities say the fake bills are slightly smaller than legitimate folding money.

Republican Administration In New Mexico Seeks Spending Cuts Associated Press

Concerns about New Mexico's short-term cash reserves are taking center stage as state lawmakers await veto decisions by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on a budget for the coming fiscal year.

Top finance officials under Martinez said Wednesday that a $102 million operating reserve cushion leaves the state perilously close to insolvency as the fiscal year comes to a close in June.

Martinez says she is preparing plans to possibly furlough state government workers as soon as April, and reduce service days at state museums, parks and motor vehicle offices.

Leading Democratic lawmakers are calling the governor's reaction overblown and an unnecessary threat to state workers. Legislators have their own concerns about dwindling state cash as the federal government delays a $70 million payment on an oil and gas lease sale.

Rio Grande Water To Be Released From Caballo Reservoir – The Associated Press

The first Rio Grande water of 2017 will be released Friday from the Caballo Reservoir.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that water could fill the riverbed near Las Cruces as soon as Saturday. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is slated to release the water early Friday.

The riverbed in south-central New Mexico has been mostly dry since the end of farming season last fall.

The first water being released is for farmers in the El Paso, Texas, area, which begins water delivery earlier than the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.

El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 General Manager Jesus Reyes says the district is ready to start irrigation when the water reaches El Paso, which is expected to be Sunday or Monday by the latest.

New Mexico Creates Repair Fund For State Trust LandsAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has signed legislation to gradually set aside up to $5 million to help repair damaged or polluted state trust lands.

The bill signed by Martinez on Wednesday creates the State Trust Lands Restoration and Remediation Fund. The account can be tapped to clean up illegal dumping, restore watersheds from wildfire damage or deal with invasive plant species.

Republican Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn proposed the legislation as his agency grappled with wastewater spills by a financially troubled oil-well company and wildfire recovery efforts.

The new fund gets 1 percent of revenues from the state's land maintenance fund, or about $580,000 annually.

The maintenance fund is the source of the State Land Office's operating budget and receives money from activities ranging from cattle grazing to oil extraction.

Pecan Weevil Affecting Some Residential Trees In New MexicoAssociated Press

The state Department of Agriculture says a small number of residential pecan trees are being affected by pecan weevil in five eastern New Mexico cities.

Pecan weevil is a significant insect pest of pecan and is not recognized as being established in New Mexico commercial orchards.

Recently, pecan weevil has been identified in residential trees in Clovis, Roswell and Lovington.

Additional pecan trees were identified with pecan weevil in Artesia and Hobbs.

As a result, the agriculture department has extended the original 60-day quarantine, adding an additional 90 days.

To limit the spread of pecan weevil from infested residential trees to commercial orchards, movement of pecans produced within the city limits of Clovis, Roswell, Hobbs, Artesia and Lovington are restricted.

American Airlines Pilot Dies After Medical Episode On Flight Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

An American Airlines pilot died after having a medical episode just before landing in Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the captain declared a medical emergency on flight 1353 a couple of minutes before landing at Albuquerque International Sunport on Wednesday evening.

A spokesman for the airline tells the newspaper that the captain landed the flight from Dallas-Fort Worth without incident. The plane taxied normally to a gate and was met by paramedics. American Airlines first officer William "Mike" Grubbs was pronounced dead.

DA Seeks Answers From New Mexico Supreme Court On Bail RulesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The top prosecutor for New Mexico's most populous judicial district wants the state Supreme Court to clarify the circumstances under which certain defendants can be held without bail pending trial.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez announced Wednesday that he'll be filing a writ with the high court.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Torrez's move came after he watched a federal proceeding in which a U.S. magistrate ordered Paul Salas held pending trial. Salas is accused of 47 armed robberies in the Albuquerque area.

Salas is facing state and federal charges. In state court, prosecutors tried to get him held without bail but a judge instead set bond at $100,000, which Salas didn't post.

Last year, voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing state judges to hold certain defendants without bail pending trial.

New Mexico Hit By 'Flash Drought' Weather Phenomenon - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Across New Mexico, unusually warm March weather and virtually no rain for a month combined to create a weather phenomenon called a flash drought.

The conditions resulted in dust storms that closed highways, warnings for some to stay inside and rapid mountain snow melting that could compromise drinking water supplies and farmers' irrigation needs.

Flash droughts leave top layers of soil bone dry.

Other affected areas include pockets of Arizona and Utah plus northern California and parts of the Midwest.

National Weather Service hydrologist Royce Fontenot says New Mexico's flash drought is ending as quickly as it began thanks to rain this week.

It's too early to say whether more severe drought conditions could affect New Mexico as summer nears.

Forecasters hope for a wet monsoon season.

Zinke: Border Wall 'Complex,' Faces Geographic Challenges - By Matthew Daly, Associated Press

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says geographic and physical challenges will make it difficult to build the "big, beautiful wall" that President Donald Trump has promised on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Zinke told reporters Wednesday that building a wall "is complex in some areas," including a national park and the Rio Grande River, which twists through much of the 2,000-mile border.

Zinke told the Public Lands Council, a group that represents western ranchers, on Tuesday that the U.S. is not going to "cede" the Rio Grande to Mexico by putting a wall on the U.S. side, nor will the wall be built "in the middle of the river."

Zinke said electronic monitors may be more appropriate in some areas, while areas with imposing natural features may not require additional reinforcements.

AG: Man Accused Of Killing Family Is Returned To New MexicoAssociated Press

A man accused of killing his family in Roswell last summer has been extradited and is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas made the announcement Wednesday.

Juan David Villegas-Hernandez was taken into custody by Sonora state police in June after investigators in Roswell said the 34-year-old shot and killed his wife, Cynthia Villegas, and their four daughters.

The bodies were discovered by relatives who stopped by the family's home after not hearing from them for several days.

Court documents say Cynthia Villegas had just asked her husband for a divorce. A criminal complaint provided some details about an unhappy and unemployed husband worried about infidelity and a wife fearful of a man who had become controlling and threatening.

It's not immediately known whether Villegas-Hernandez has a lawyer.