89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

WED: "Rust" loses tax incentives, Summer heat brings contact burns, + More

FILE - In this image from video released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, Alec Baldwin speaks with investigators following a fatal shooting on a movie set in Santa Fe, N.M. No one is objecting to a settlement agreement to resolve allegations of workplace safety violations in the 2021 shooting death of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin on the set of a Western movie. (Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office
FILE - In this image from video released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, Alec Baldwin speaks with investigators following a fatal shooting on a movie set in Santa Fe, N.M. Tax incentives totaling $1.6 million has been denied for the film in order to make up for costs associated with the state's investigation, and more.

New Mexico denies film incentive application on 'Rust' movie after fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Producers of the western movie "Rust" may have to forgo a robust economic incentive as they try to sell the film to distributors and fulfill financial obligations to the immediate family of a cinematographer who was fatally shot by Alec Baldwin during rehearsal in 2021.

New Mexico tax authorities denied an application this spring by Rust Movie Productions for incentives worth as much as $1.6 million, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. A late July deadline for producers to appeal the decision is approaching.

Meanwhile, Baldwin is scheduled to go on trial starting next week on an involuntary manslaughter charge in Halyna Hutchins' death. The lead actor and co-producer of "Rust" was pointing a gun at Hutchins when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.

Melina Spadone, an attorney representing the production company, said the film production tax incentive was going to be used to finance a legal settlement between producers and Hutchins' widower and son.

"The denial of the tax credit has disrupted those financial arrangements," said Spadone, a New York- and Los Angeles-based senior counsel at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. She helped broker the 2022 settlement that rebooted the stalled production of "Rust" in Montana with some of the original cast and crew, including Baldwin and Souza. Filming wrapped up last year.

Terms of the settlement are confidential, but producers say finishing the film was meant to honor Hutchins' artistic vision and generate money for her young son.

Court documents indicate that settlement payments are up to a year late, as attorneys for Hutchins' widower determine "next steps" that include whether to resume wrongful death litigation or initiate new claims. Legal representatives for Matthew Hutchins did not respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment.

The prosecution of Baldwin and the film's tax incentive application both have financial implications for New Mexico taxpayers. The Santa Fe district attorney's office says it spent $625,000 on "Rust"-related prosecution through the end of April.

The state's film incentives program is among the most generous in the nation, offering a direct rebate of between 25% and 40% on an array of expenditures to entice movie projects, employment and infrastructure investments. As a percentage of the state budget, only Georgia pays out more in incentives.

It includes a one-time option to assign the payment to a financial institution. That lets producers use the rebate to underwrite production ahead of time, often layering rights to the rebate and future movie income into production loans.

Among the beneficiaries of the rebate program are the 2011 movie "Cowboys and Aliens" and the TV series "Better Call Saul," a spinoff of "Breaking Bad." As for current productions, New Mexico is the backdrop for a new film starring Matthew McConaughey and America Ferrera about the rescue of students in a 2018 wildfire in the town of Paradise — the most destructive in California's history.

Charlie Moore, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, declined to comment specifically on the "Rust" application, citing concerns about confidential taxpayer information. Applications are reviewed for a long list of accounting and claim requirements.

During a recent 12-month period, 56 film incentive applications were approved and 43 were partially or fully denied, Moore said.

Documents obtained by AP show the New Mexico Film Office issued a memo in January to "Rust" that approved eligibility to apply for the tax incentive, in a process that involves accounting ledgers, vetting against outstanding debts and an on-screen closing credit to New Mexico as a filming location. Taxation officials have final say on whether expenses are eligible.

Spadone, the attorney for "Rust," said the denial of the application is "surprising" and could disrupt confidence in the tax program with a chilling effect on rebate-backed loans that propel the local film industry.

Alton Walpole, a production manager at Santa Fe-based Mountainair Films who was not involved in "Rust," said he faults the movie's creators for seemingly cutting corners on safety but officials have an obligation to review its tax credit application based on legal and accounting principles only — or risk losing major projects to other states. Movies are inherently dangerous even without firearms on set, he noted.

"They're going to say, 'Wait, are we going to New Mexico? They could deny the rebate,'" Walpole said. "They're watching every penny."

"Popular opinion? I'd say don't give them the rebate. But legally, I think they qualified for it all," he said.

At least 18 states have enacted measures to implement or expand film tax incentives since 2021, while some have gone in the opposite direction and sought to limit the transferability and refundability of credit.

Under Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico has raised annual spending caps and expanded the film tax credit amid a multibillion-dollar surplus linked to record oil and natural gas production. Film rebate payouts were $100 million in the fiscal year ending in June 2023 and are expected to rise to nearly $272 million by 2027, according to tax agency records and the Legislature's budget and accountability office.

Democratic state Sen. George Muñoz has criticized the incentive program and asked whether taxpayers should be responsible for unforeseen expenses.

"If we're going to do tax credits and there's a problem on the film or the set, do they really qualify or do they disqualify themselves?" said Muñoz, chairman of the lead Senate budget writing committee.

"Rust" does not yet have a U.S. distributor as producers shop the newly completed movie at film festivals.

Sizzling sidewalks, unshaded playgrounds pose risk for surface burns over searing Southwest summer Anita Snow, Associated Press

Ron Falk lost his right leg, had extensive skin grafting on the left one and is still recovering a year after collapsing on the searing asphalt outside a Phoenix convenience store where he stopped for a cold soda during a heat wave.

Now using a wheelchair, the 62-year-old lost his job and his home. He's recovering at a medical respite center for patients with no other place to go; there he gets physical therapy and treatment for a bacterial infection in what remains of his right leg, too swollen to use the prosthesis he'd hoped would help him walk again.

"If you don't get somewhere to cool down, the heat will affect you," said Falk, who lost consciousness due to heat stroke. "Then you won't know what's happening, like in my case."

Sizzling sidewalks and unshaded playgrounds pose risks for surface burns as air temperatures reach new summertime highs in Southwest cities like Phoenix, which just recorded its hottest June on record. The average daytime high was 109.5 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius), without a single 24-hour high below 100 (37.7 C).

Young children, older adults and homeless people are especially at risk for contact burns, which can occur in seconds when skin touches a surface of 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 C).

Since the beginning of June, 50 people have been hospitalized with such burns, and four have died at Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix, which operates the Southwest's largest burn center, serving patients from Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Southern California and Texas, according to its director, Dr. Kevin Foster. About 80% were injured in metro Phoenix.

Last year, the center admitted 136 patients for surface burns from June through August, up from 85 during the same period in 2022, Foster said. Fourteen died. One out of five were homeless.

"Last year's record heat wave brought an alarming number of patients with life-threatening burns," Foster said of a 31-day period, including all of last July, with temperatures at or above 110 degrees (43 C) during Phoenix's hottest summer ever.

Last summer saw a dramatic increase in patients hospitalized after being scalded by asphalt, sidewalks and other hot surfaces at burn centers in Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Since April 1, the New Mexico Department of Health reports 443 people have been admitted to emergency rooms with heat-related illnesses. That includes 82 in just the last week.

In Las Vegas, which regularly sees summer-time highs in the triple-digits, 22 people were hospitalized in June alone at the University Medical Center's Lions Burn Care Center, said spokesperson Scott Kerbs. That's nearly half as many as the 46 hospitalized during all three summer months last year.

As in Phoenix, the desert sun punishes Las Vegas for hours every day, frying outdoor surfaces like asphalt, concrete and metal doors on cars and playground equipment like swings and monkey bars.

Surface burn victims often include children injured walking barefoot on broiling concrete or touching hot surfaces, adults who collapsed on a sidewalk while intoxicated, and older people who fell on the pavement due to heat stroke or another medical emergency.

Some don't survive.

Thermal injuries were among the main or contributing causes of last year's 645 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix.

One victim was an 82-year-old woman with dementia and heart disease admitted to a suburban Phoenix hospital after being found on the scorching pavement on an August day that hit 106 degrees (41.1 C).

With a body temperature of 105 degrees (40.5 C) the woman was rushed to the hospital with second-degree burns on her back and right side, covering 8% of her body. She died three days later.

Many surface burn patients also suffered potentially fatal heat stroke.

Valleywise hospital's emergency department recently adopted a new protocol for all heat-stroke victims, submerging patients in a bag of slushy ice to quickly bring down body temperature.

Recovery for those with skin burns was often lengthy, with patients undergoing multiple skin grafts and other surgeries, followed by months of recovery in skilled nursing or rehabilitation facilities.

Bob Woolley, 71, suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hands, arms, leg and torso after he stumbled onto the broiling backyard rock garden at his Phoenix home, wearing only swim trunks and a tank top.

"The ordeal was extremely painful, it was almost unbearable," said Woolley, who was hospitalized at the Valleywise burn center for several months. He said he considers himself "95% recovered" after extensive skin grafts and physical therapy and has resumed some former activities like swimming and motorcycle riding.

Some skin-burn victims, both in Phoenix and Las Vegas, were children.

"In many cases, this involves toddlers walking or crawling onto hot surfaces," Kerbs said of those hospitalized at the Las Vegas center.

Foster said about 20% of the hospitalized and outpatient skin-burn victims seen at the Phoenix center are children.

Small children aren't fully aware of the harm a sizzling metal door handle or a scorching sidewalk can cause.

"Because they're playing, they don't pay attention," said urban climatologist Ariane Middel, an assistant professor at Arizona State University who directs the SHaDE Lab, a research team that studies the effects of urban heat.

"They may not even notice that it's hot."

In measuring surface temperatures of playground equipment, the team found that in 100-degree Fahrenheit (37.7 C) weather without shade, a slide can heat up to 160 degrees (71.1 C), but a covering can bring that down to 111 degrees (43.8 C). A rubber ground cover can hit as high as 188 degrees (86.6 C), a handrail can heat up to 120 degrees (48.8 C) and concrete can reach 132 degrees (55.5 C).

Many metro Phoenix parks have covered picnic tables and plastic fabric stretched over play equipment, keeping metal or plastic surfaces up to 30 degrees cooler. But plenty do not, Middel said.

She said cooler wood chips are better underfoot than rubber mats, which were designed to protect kids from head injuries but soak up heat in the broiling sun. Like rubber, artificial turf gets hotter than asphalt.

"We need to think about alternative surface types, because most surfaces we use for our infrastructure are heat sponges," Middel said.

Hot concrete and asphalt also pose burn risks for pets.

Veterinarians recommend dogs wear booties to protect their paws during outdoor walks in summer, or keeping them on cooler grassy areas. Owners are also advised to make sure their pets drink plenty of water and don't get overheated. Phoenix bans dogs from the city's popular hiking trails on days the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning.

Recovering at Phoenix's Circle the City, a respite care facility he was sent to after being released from Valleywise's burn unit, Falk said he never imagined the Phoenix heat could cause him to collapse on the broiling asphalt in his shorts and T-shirt.

Because he wasn't carrying identification or a phone, no one knew where he was for months. He has a long road ahead but still hopes to regain part of his old life, working for a concessionaire for entertainment events.

"I kind of went into a downward spiral," Falk acknowledged. "I finally woke up and said, 'Hey, wait, I lost a leg.' But that doesn't mean you're useless."

Flying objects and shrunken heads: World UFO Day feted amid surge in sightings, government denials Ben Finley, Associated Press 

For those of you who don't celebrate World UFO Day, consider this:

A former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer told Congress last summer about a government program that retrieves and reverse engineers unidentified flying objects.

The Mexican Congress held an unprecedented session in September during which supposed mummies were presented as "nonhuman beings that are not part of our terrestrial evolution."

And NASA now has a director of research for unidentified flying objects, or what it calls "unidentified anomalous phenomena."


Never mind that the Pentagon denied the former intelligence officer's claims; that Mexican researchers said the mummies "made no sense;" and that a NASA study found no evidence of extraterrestrials.

There's still never been a better time to mark World UFO Day.


Aliens? Or just balloons and crash test dummies?

World UFO Day has its roots in the so-called Roswell Incident on July 2, 1947. On that date, something crashed at what was then the J.B. Foster ranch in New Mexico. There were reports that the U.S. military had recovered a "flying disc." But officials later said the debris was merely the remnants of a high-altitude weather balloon.

The Air Force investigated the incident in 1994 amid charges that it was covering up the truth. It concluded that the supposed alien spacecraft was likely a secret Army Air Force balloon designed to monitor Soviet nuclear testing.

The material found near Roswell consisted of foil-wrapped fabric, wooden sticks, rubber pieces, and small I-beams with strange markings on them. A local newspaper headline described the find dramatically and unequivocally: Air Force Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch.

"The Air Force research did not locate or develop any information that the 'Roswell Incident' was a UFO event," wrote Col. Richard Weaver, author of the report.

The Air Force released another report addressing UFO claims in 1997, stating that alleged alien bodies found near Roswell were just dummies used in parachute tests.

Some UFO researchers pushed back against that explanation, noting that such dummies weren't used until 10 years after the Roswell Incident. And they said it would be a stretch for people who claimed to see alien bodies to mix up their dates so badly.

The life-size dummies were used in high-altitude parachute drops from 1954 to 1959. The majority landed outside the confines of military bases in eastern New Mexico, near Roswell, according to the Air Force report.

The dummies had a skeleton of aluminum or steel, skin of latex or plastic, a cast aluminum skull, and an instrument cavity in the torso and head.

The Air Force said the existence of such dummies was not widely known outside of scientific circles and "easily could have been mistaken for something they were not.''


In 2022, Congress held its first hearing on UFOs in half a century as the Pentagon investigated hundreds of unexplained sightings in the sky.

The spotted objects appeared to be aircraft flying without any discernible means of propulsion. They have been reported near military bases and coastlines, raising the prospect that what witnesses actually spotted was secret Chinese or Russian technology.

A 2021 government report reviewed 144 sightings of aircraft or other devices that were apparently flying at mysterious speeds or trajectories. It found no extraterrestrial links but drew few other conclusions and called for better data collection.

Lawmakers from both parties have said the UFOs are a national security concern. But the sightings are usually fleeting. Some appear for no more than an instant on camera — and then sometimes end up distorted by the camera lens.

Ronald Moultrie, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said during a 2022 hearing that the Pentagon was trying to destigmatize the issue and encourage pilots and other military personnel to report anything unusual they see.

Then things got a little strange last year.

During a congressional hearing in late July, retired Air Force Maj. David Grusch testified that the U.S. is concealing a longstanding program that retrieves and reverse engineers unidentified flying objects.

Asked whether the U.S. government had information about extraterrestrial life, Grusch said the U.S. likely has been aware of "nonhuman" activity since the 1930s.

The Pentagon denied Grusch's claims of a cover-up and denied the existence of any such program.


Unlike the hearings in the U.S., the testimony before lawmakers in the Mexican Congress included alleged evidence of aliens.

During an unprecedented session in September, Mexican journalist José Jaime Maussan presented two boxes containing shriveled bodies with shrunken, warped heads — supposed mummies found in Peru.

"It's the queen of all evidence," Maussan claimed. "That is, if the DNA is showing us that they are nonhuman beings and that there is nothing that looks like this in the world, we should take it as such."

The apparently desiccated bodies date back to 2017 and were found deep underground in the sandy Peruvian coastal desert of Nazca. Most attribute the famous Nazca Lines to ancient Indigenous communities.

Julieta Fierro, researcher at the Institute of Astronomy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, was among those to express skepticism, saying that many details about the figures "made no sense."

She noted that scientists would need more advanced technology than the X-rays they claimed to use to determine if the allegedly calcified bodies were "nonhuman".

At another hearing in November, Maussan made the case again, citing a "nonhuman" that did not have lungs or ribs.


The Pentagon released a study in March that had examined the many UFO sightings over nearly the past century and found no evidence of aliens or extraterrestrial intelligence.

The report analyzed U.S. government investigations since 1945. It also found no evidence that the U.S. or private companies had reverse-engineered extraterrestrial technology.

The Pentagon's report arrived about six months after NASA released a report on UFOs, which also found no evidence of extraterrestrials.

But NASA Administrator Bill Nelson did acknowledge that another Earth-like planet could exist within the billions of galaxies in the universe.

"If you ask me, do I believe there's life in a universe that is so vast that it's hard for me to comprehend how big it is? My personal answer is yes," Nelson said at a news conference.

When pressed by reporters on whether the U.S. or other governments are hiding aliens or otherworldly spaceships, Nelson said: "Show me the evidence."