Legislature Approves Gas Tax Hike, AG Launches Inquiry Into UNM Golf Trip

May 25, 2017

New Mexico Legislature Approves Gas Tax HikeThe Associated Press

A tax hike on gasoline has been approved by the New Mexico Legislature despite opposition by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

The state House and Senate gave final approval Thursday to tax increase on gasoline and diesel of 5 cents per gallon and a $55 registration fee on interstate freight trucks. Proceeds would help rebuild depleted general fund reserves and pay for road maintenance and construction.

Martinez vetoed similar tax proposals in April and has vowed to do it again. She has denounced gasoline taxes in particular as a burden on working families. All Republicans on the Senate committee voted against the tax increases.

Lawmakers are trying to resolve a budget crisis linked to a downturn in oil prices and a weak local economy, and restore $765 million in state spending that was vetoed by the governor.

AG Launches Inquiry Into UNM Spending On Golf Trip – The Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has launched a formal inquiry into the spending of public money by the University of New Mexico on a 2015 golf trip to Scotland that included athletics officials and private donors.

Balderas sent a letter Thursday to the university's acting president, saying he's committed to ensuring transparency and accountability in state government and that public admissions by UNM Athletics Director Paul Krebs indicate possible violations of conduct laws and the anti-donation clause in the state Constitution.

Balderas said Krebs knew in 2015 when the golf trip was booked and recorded instead as a men's basketball tournament that public funds were used to pay for the expenses of private donors.

University officials have said that discipline against Krebs was being considered.

Snowmelt Brings New Mexico Lake Water Levels UpThe Associated Press

New Mexico RVs owners prepping for the Memorial Day weekend say unexpected high waters levels at a lake have dampened their plans.

Elephant Butte Park officials tell local media that the lake in southern New Mexico is currently 14 feet higher than this time last year. Park Superintendent Kay Dunlap says the water is coming from snowmelt flowing from the upper Rio Grande.

Many people left their RVs parked on the beach ahead of the weekend. Many came back to the lake after they were notified by a park employee or saw photos on Facebook.

One owner told KRQE that when he left, his truck was not in the water. He found the front tires in the water Wednesday.

Reports say the water level will continue to rise until mid-June.

New Mexico Lawmakers Urge Governor To Reinstate FundingThe Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers sought new ways Thursday to increase state tax revenues and shore up state finances, urging Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to reinstate vetoed funding to state universities and the Legislature.

On the second day of a special session, lawmakers in the Democrat-dominated Legislature approved two bills to increase state tax revenue and help restore $765 million in funding that was vetoed by the governor.

Without a budget agreement, all general-fund expenditures for the Legislature plus state colleges, universities and schools for the deaf and blind are scheduled to run out July 1.

The Legislature sent bills to the governor Wednesday to reinstate a $6.1 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 and ending June 2018.

New Mexico Judge Denies Convicted Killer's Plea WithdrawalThe Associated Press

A judge has denied a convicted killer's attempt to get out of prison by trying to withdraw his guilty plea in the murders of five people in New Mexico between 2005 and 2008.

Clifton Bloomfield pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced to 195 years in prison.

Late last year, Bloomfield filed a writ of habeas corpus to withdraw his plea.

The Office of the Attorney General Criminal Appeals Division argued in December that Bloomfield's petition should be dismissed.

Second Judicial District Court Judge Benjamin Chavez agreed with the AG's Office on Thursday.

Bloomfield was convicted of killing 37-year-old Carlos Esquibel in October 2005 and Josephine Selvage three days later.

He also was charged with murdering Tak and Pung Yi in December 2007 and 40-year-old Scott Pierce in June 2008.

FBI Raids New Mexico Taxation And Revenue Department OfficeThe Associated Press

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has raided the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department as part of an ongoing federal grand jury investigation.

The agency raided the state department on Wednesday. U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez says agents executed a federal search warrant, but she declined to give any details of the investigation.

Department spokesman Ben Cloutier says the agency has been concerned with a classified employee. He says the employee at question has been placed on administrative leave.

It is unclear whether the raid had been related to a state investigation of Demesia Padilla, former taxation and revenue secretary. Padilla resigned in December after state investigators went to her agency and seized tax documents belonging to her and her husband.

New Mexico Legislature Approves Revenue BillAssociated Press

The New Mexico Legislature has sent a bill to the governor that would tap severance tax bonds to fill a budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year.

The state House of Representatives voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend infrastructure projects and bolster the state general fund by $100 million in the coming fiscal year.

Of those funds, $19 million are one-time transfers of money from dozens of state government accounts.

Many lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation with reluctance, saying it set a bad precedent to borrow money to pay for current operations.

The Legislature began a special session Wednesday as it grapples with ways to balance a budget for the coming fiscal year. The governor recently vetoed tax increases and all funding for state universities.

Legislators also are considering new legislation to raise taxes on nonprofit hospitals, internet sales, vehicle sales and gasoline.

Governor Appoints Alex Romero To UNM RegentsAlbuquerque Journal

Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Alex Romero, former CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, to a seat on the University of New Mexico Board of Regents just after another regent stepped down.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Romero’s is a recess appointment subject to approval by the state Senate Rules Committee. The move came just after regent Jack Fortner resigned after 18 years.

Martinez nominated Romero earlier this year, but lawmakers never held a hearing for the governor’s appointees during the regular legislative session.

Romero’s appointment lasts only through the next legislative session, but he told the Journal he plans to ask the Senate Rules Committee for a hearing on his appointment.

Colorado Schools To Participate In Spaceport Rocket LaunchAssociated Press

More than a dozen payloads from public schools and other educational organizations around Colorado will be aboard one of the rockets to be launched from Spaceport America during a competition next month.

The schools are teaming up with United Launch Alliance and Ball Aerospace for the June 24 launch at the spaceport in southern New Mexico.

Their projects will be launched on a 53-foot-tall, high-power sport rocket dubbed "Future Heavy."

Spaceport officials say the annual competition is open to student rocketry teams from across the country and around the world. This year's competition is expected to be the largest with more than 110 teams from 11 different countries.

Various types of rockets will be launched, with some aiming for altitudes of 30,000 feet.

Feds, New Mexico Farm Reach Deal On Discrimination CaseAssociated Press

Federal officials say they have reached an agreement with a New Mexico onion farm accused of discrimination.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it had entered a settlement with Carrillo Farm Labor in Deming, New Mexico, for giving special preference to foreign visa workers.

Justice Department investigators say Carrillo Farm denied U.S. citizens employment in 2016 because it wanted to hire temporary foreign workers under the H-2A visa program.

The settlement agreement requires Carrillo Farm to pay civil penalties and undergo department-provided training on the anti-discrimination rules.

The Deming farm also must comply with departmental monitoring and reporting requirements.

Trump Budget Would Allow Sale Of Wild Horses For SlaughterAssociated Press

President Donald Trump's budget proposal calls for saving $10 million next year by selling wild horses captured throughout the West without a guarantee from buyers that the animals won't be resold for slaughter.

Wild horse advocates say the change would gut nearly a half-century of protection for wild horses and could send thousands of free-roaming mustangs to foreign slaughterhouses for processing as food.

They say the Trump administration is kowtowing to livestock interests who don't want the region's estimated 59,000 mustangs competing for precious forage across more than 40,000 square miles of rangeland in 10 states managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Trump's budget anticipates the savings would come through a reduction in the cost of containing and feeding the animals. The savings also would include cutbacks involving roundups and contraception programs.

Navajo Nation Bill Would Name Highway After Chief ManuelitoDaily Times, Associated Press

A Navajo Nation proposal would designate a portion of U.S. Highway 491 in honor of the prominent Navajo leader Chief Manuelito.

The Daily Times in Farmington reports a bill sponsored by a member of the Navajo Nation Council would rename the portion between Monticello, Utah, and Gallup, New Mexico, after Chief Manuelito Atiin.

Atiin is the Navajo word for highway.

On the Navajo Nation, the highway travels through various Navajo communities, including Shiprock and Newcomb.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who is sponsoring the legislation, says the designation is suitable because Manuelito hailed from the area.

The bill says Manuelito was a chief before and after the "Long Walk" to Fort Sumner.

Legislation Seeks To Extend Operation Of Arizona Power PlantAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation Council has been asked to approve an agreement between the tribe and the owners of the Navajo Generating Station to extend the operations of the power plant in northern Arizona.

Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates says he and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye support having the coal-fired plant in Page remain in operation through 2019 and beyond.

The plant's owners announced in February they plan to close it in December 2019 when their lease expires, citing the availability of less expensive power generated by burning natural gas.

The owners say it'll take about two years to decommission the generating station, which means operations would have to end as soon as July 2017.

They want the tribe to issue a final decision on the proposed agreement by July 1.

New Mexico Program Will Help Prosecutors Prioritize CasesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico law enforcement departments say they've created a most dangerous offender list to help them prioritize criminal prosecutions.

The Albuquerque Journal reports officials had announced on Tuesday the new "Analysis-Led Recidivism Team."

Once a suspect that's part of the program is arrested, an alert will be sent to prosecutors so they can prioritize the case from the first appearance through the judgment and sentencing.

Some defendants will be targeted for a vigorous prosecution because they are accused of crimes that are spiking around the county.

New Mexico Public Service Company Sends New Rate ProposalSanta Fe New Mexican

Public Service Company of New Mexico has submitted a new rate proposal after having an earlier one rejected.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the proposal had been sent to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Tuesday. The previous proposal had been rejected by the commission because it wouldn't have affected all customers equally and would have overburdened regulators.

The company still seeks a 9.2 percent rate increase throughout the next two years, which would begin in 2018. But the new proposal takes into consideration that not all customers would have been paying equal amounts under the previous plan.

Company spokesman Pahl Shipley says the new agreement also removed a request to accelerate how quickly the company can recover costs associated with two coal plants that face potential retirement.