MON: Lawmakers Say Tough Choices Ahead As COVID Cases Rise To 686, + More

Apr 6, 2020

New Mexico Lawmaker Says Special Session And Tough Choices Ahead - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The chairman of a key legislative committee says New Mexico's finances have been hit by a double-whammy of a pandemic and an oil-price crash.

But state Sen. John Arthur Smith says the blow will be somewhat cushioned by decisions made during the last legislative session to build up reserves. In a message to fellow lawmakers, he also warns that a special legislative session and tough choices still lie ahead.

The Legislative Finance Committee outlined recent spending increases and upcoming challenges in a post-session review made public Monday.

It's still unclear how soon lawmakers could be called upon to revise the state's $7.6 billion budget.

Legislative analysts reported that the state now faces "considerable uncertainty" in light of depressed oil prices that threaten to halt production growth or result in production declines.

They say that would have severe implications for state general funds for the current fiscal year and possibly beyond.

Republican lawmakers have suggested holding spending to 2020 levels until new revenue estimates can be established.

They've also called for rolling back new funding and programs in hopes of avoiding cuts to programs they say residents already rely on.

Santa Fe Indian Market Postponed Until 2021KUNM

The organizers of Santa Fe Indian Market said the event has been postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus. The market was to take place in August.

The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts said in a press release on its website the Centennial Celebration of the market will be moved to 2022. All artists juried into the 2020 market will be automatically accepted into the market next year.

Officials said they are exploring holding a virtual market to promote online sales for artists.

COVID-19 Cases Rise But Death Toll Does NotKUNM, Santa Fe New Mexican

The New Mexico Department of Health announced Monday that the number of positive tests for COVID-19 rose to 686, but the number of deaths remained at 12.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the increase was driven by a surge in the state’s northwest corner with 25 more cases. As the most populous county Bernalillo leads in the number of cases, followed by Sandoval, San Juan and Santa Fe counties.

The additional cases include three more at La Vida Llena retirement community in Albuquerque where one additional resident and two additional staff members tested positive.

There are 48 people currently hospitalized and 133 people who had COVID-19 have recovered.

New Mexico Regulators Push Ahead As Virus Disaster Declared - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico environmental regulators say they're marching ahead despite a recent decision by U.S. officials to waive enforcement on a range of legally mandated federal public health and environmental protections.

Food inspections are ongoing in New Mexico as is the tracking of methane emissions and other critical work related to drinking water protections and worker safety.

Officials say about 25% of the New Mexico Environment Department's staff is focusing on COVID-19 related critical services.

The rest are working on permitting actions and compliance activities to the extent possible during the public health emergency, from developing new water quality improvement projects to analyzing air quality data and answering questions about the state's hemp program.

More than 620 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in New Mexico and a dozen people have died.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump signed off on a federal disaster declaration for the state, freeing up federal funding to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts.

Police Say Sheriff's Deputy Arrested Store Worker After 'Look'Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A former deputy of the troubled Rio Arriba County Sheriff's Office has been charged with battery and false imprisonment in connection with an episode at a Family Dollar store.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Joseph Aquino recently was charged after New Mexico State Police say he pushed and fought with a store employee before arresting him on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in March 2019. Police say Aquino had no lawful authority to do so.

According to the complaint, the 44-year-old Aquino told an investigator he felt threatened by the employee because of the way the worker looked at him in Chimayó, New Mexico.

Betsy Salcedo, Aquino's attorney, said in an interview that Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan had fired Aquino in June because of the episode, several months after Aquino had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

81 New Coronavirus Cases In New Mexico; 12th Death Reported - Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico health officials have announced 81 new cases of coronavirus and the state's 12th death. 

The state Department of Health said Sunday that New Mexico now has 624 cases of COVID-19 including 34 new positive cases in Sandoval County and 21 in Bernalillo County. 

Health officials said a McKinley County man in his 40s died Sunday and had underlying chronic medical conditions. 

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus-related deaths on the Navajo Nation has grown to 13. The Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Area Indian Health Service announced one new death Sunday and 51 new confirmed cases. 

Of the 321 confirmed positive cases on the vast reservation, most are in Arizona, including 137 in Navajo County.

Statistics show 30 COVID-19 cases in New Mexico's San Juan County, 17 in McKinley County, seven in Cibola County and two in Socorro County. The tribe's vast reservation also stretches into Utah, and seven coronavirus cases are reported in one county there.

Data compiled by the Albuquerque Journal shows that as of Saturday night, the per capita rate of reported cases on Navajo land is more than seven times higher than in New Mexico. 

New Mexico TV Stations To Broadcast Classes For K-5 Students - Associated Press

With New Mexico schools shut down for the rest of the school year because of the coronavirus outbreak, three public television stations on Monday will begin airing class lessons for home learning for students in grades K-5. 

The participating PBS stations are KNME-TV at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, KENW-TV at Eastern New Mexico University's Portales campus, and KRWG-TV at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. 

The Albuquerque school district will provide four hours of instruction each weekday morning. Subjects include English, math and science. 

The daily lesson plans will be broadcast each day, and they will then be available later for individual "on-demand lessons," KNME said.

Schools statewide closed in March through the end of the school year to reduce the spread of the virus. New Mexico as of Saturday reported 543 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths.

Chaos And Scrambling In The US Oil Patch As Prices Plummet - By Cathy Bussewitz Ap Business Writer

In New Mexico, an oil truck driver who supports his family just went a week without pay. 

The global economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the oil industry in the U.S., which pumps more crude than any other country. In the first quarter, the price of U.S. crude fell harder than at any point in history, plunging 66% to around $20 a barrel.

A generation ago, a drop in oil prices would have largely been celebrated in the U.S., translating into cheaper gas for consumers. But today, those depressed prices carry negative economic implications, particularly in states that have become dependent on oil to keep their budgets balanced and residents employed.

In New Mexico, where a third of the state's revenue comes from petroleum, the governor slashed infrastructure spending and will likely cut more in a special legislative session. 

While many industries paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic received help from a recent $2 trillion congressional relief package, the energy sector was largely left out. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's main lobbying group, has maintained its free market philosophy, saying it does not want direct financial assistance from the government. But the group did ask the federal government  to relax environmental rules.

Many oil producers big and small stopped the costly process of drilling new wells when prices plummeted, leaving all kinds of workers vulnerable to layoffs: drillers, attorneys, truckers who deliver sand or water for fracking and skilled tradesmen who make equipment for rigs, to name a few. 

It was only two weeks ago when Sergio Chavira, a 33-year-old truck driver in New Mexico, was advertising on Craigslist for other drivers to help him haul crude oil, writing that there was "plenty of work."

Not anymore. The husband and father of an 8 year old and a 5 year old hasn't driven his truck for a week and is bracing for a drop in pay for what work is left. 

New Mexico Land Office Considers Emergency Oil And Gas Rule - Associated Press

Land managers in New Mexico are considering an emergency rule that would allow oil and gas companies that lease state trust land to temporarily stop producing without penalty for at least 30 days, with a possible extension of up to 120 days. 

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard on Friday pointed to the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic as well as the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia that has threatened America's yearslong fracking boom.

She says it's in the best interest of public schools and other trust land beneficiaries if her agency allows companies to apply for temporary well shut-ins. 

A public hearing is planned for April 17.


Santa Fe's Vacation Rental Market Sees Big Decline - By Kyle Land Albuquerque Journal

As in many other tourist destinations in the United States, a large portion of Santa Fe's housing market is short-term rentals, where guests can stay in family-sized homes for a few nights instead of a hotel.

Oftentimes, owners rent properties through such websites as Airbnb and HomeAway.

But the demand for these vacation rentals, as in so many other sectors of the economy, has dropped off dramatically since New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency March 11 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Shane Morris, a Houston-based machine learning engineer, tracks online traffic for short-term rentals across the country and said the market has evaporated in a short span of time.

In Santa Fe, he said, internet searches for terms like "places to stay in Santa Fe" fell by 97%.

"When you lose 97% of your searches on a term, that's deadly," he said. "They've all cratered in the past two weeks."

A report from last year indicated that there were more than 1,600 active listings for short-term rentals in Santa Fe, ranking it 12th in the country on a per capita basis.

Morris said those who own multiple short-term units will be affected most by the lack of demand.

School Bus Drivers Delivering Meals In Rural New Mexico - By Vida Volkert, The Gallup Independent

Riding as a passenger on a nearly empty school bus through rural McKinley County Monday morning, Shari Lambson, a bus driver for Gallup-McKinley County Schools, was still in disbelief, calling the experience “emotionally draining.”

Wearing nitrile gloves and a face mask, Lambson was riding with driver Jeff Bond. They were transporting several coolers filled with meals that the Ramah Elementary Cafeteria staff had put together to deliver to local students at specific sites scattered in these rural communities about 50-60 miles south of Gallup. 

In all, two buses loaded with about 100 meals departed for rural McKinley County Monday. Lambson said that "For some of the students, this is their only meal.”

Two weeks earlier, Lambson was on a bus full of students driving them back to their homes on the last day of school before spring break, thinking that she would pick them up again a week later. 

Now, it is uncertain when that's going to happen as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.

The meals they started delivering Friday included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, fruit and milk.

Super PAC: GOP House Hopeful In New Mexico 'Bashing' Trump - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

A new super PAC with ties to a New Mexico oil trucking company owner is attacking Republican House candidate Yvette Herrell for what it called lying about her support for President Donald Trump.

A Super PAC calling itself Citizens for a United New Mexico said in ads this week former state lawmaker Herrell sent emails in 2016 "to undermine Trump's campaign for president." The group also said Herrell was recently critical of Trump on a podcast. 

Herrell called the ad "disgusting." Herrell, oil executive Claire Chase and Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys are vying for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents the traditionally Republican-leaning seat in southern New Mexico.