Oil Boom May Provide Windfall To NM Public Schools, Rail Runner Express Gets $29.4M Grant

Aug 22, 2018

Oil Boom May Provide Windfall To NM Public Schools- Associated Press

A surge in New Mexico's income linked to an oil boom may give legislators an extra $1.2 billion dollars to work with as they craft the next annual budget, state economists announced Wednesday.

The windfall comes as New Mexico officials grapple with a court order to shore up funding for public schools to meet basic educational standards and a recent downgrade to the state's credit rating based on mounting public pension liabilities.

Economists from three state agencies and the Legislature reported a nearly 15 percent increase in general fund revenues for the fiscal year that ended June 30 — a growth rate the state has not seen in more than a decade. Oil production gains on relatively high energy prices are expected to continue, driving continued growth in state government income, the forecast stated.

PNM Seeks To Join Western Energy Market- Associated Press

New Mexico's largest electric utility is asking state regulators for approval to join a wholesale trading market that allows participants in several western states to buy and sell energy to better balance supply and demand.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is among those expected to join the energy imbalance market by 2020 while large utilities in Arizona, Nevada and Utah already are on board.

PNM wants to join by 2021, saying the move could save an estimated $17 million dollars annually for its customers and ensure more efficient use of the electricity generated by solar, wind and other renewable resources throughout the region.

PNM has invested millions of dollars in building solar farms in recent years and already has scaled back operations at its coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico as part of a federal mandate to reduce haze-causing pollution.

Funds Secured For Safety Upgrades To Commuter Rail System- Associated Press

New Mexico's commuter rail system has secured $60 million dollars for safety upgrades required by the federal government.

The Rio Metro Regional Transit District secured enough funds for the safety upgrades after the state's congressional delegation announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $29.4 million dollar grant to the Rail Runner Express.

The district expects to have a new safety system known as positive train control installed by the end of 2020.

The Rail Runner was expected to implement positive train control at the end of the year.

Officials hope to get an extension from the federal government and get approval to keep operating under its current schedule until the work is completed.

New Mexico Gets $3.7M To Tighten Election CybersecurityAssociated Press

New Mexico is receiving $3.7 million from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to tighten cybersecurity, safeguard voter registration rolls and otherwise improve voting systems.

On Tuesday, the commission released a report showing how states plan to spend $380 million allocated by Congress to strengthen voting systems amid threats from Russia and others.

New Mexico is among five states that did not provide the federal government with a detailed narrative for its grant spending.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission says New Mexico plans to devote more than $2 million to tighten cybersecurity, half a million to voter registration efforts and three quarters of a million to shoring up voting equipment.

The New Mexico Secretary of State's Office could not be reached immediately for comment. The federal government expects New Mexico to spend $185,000 of its own funds.

Superintendent Accuses Top Education Official Of RetaliationAssociated Press

The superintendent for Santa Fe schools is speaking out against a top official from the state education department who singled out her school district in a report.

An annual report by the Public Education Department shows that more than half of Santa Fe schools received a D or F grade.

The Secretary-designate for the department Christopher Ruszkowski said in the report that when districts fare poorly, "you have to look at the superintendent."

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia believes Ruszkowski's comments are a form of retaliation for her support of a lawsuit against the state education department.

When asked for comment on the accusations, Ruszkowski said in a statement that the Santa Fe school district should ask itself why the similarly-sized Gadsden Independent School District is doing better.

New Mexico Revokes License Of A Cannabis DispensarySanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A medical cannabis producer with dispensaries in Las Cruces and Albuquerque has become the first in New Mexico to have its license revoked

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports State Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher last week revoked the license of Mother Earth Herbs, effective March 31.

Gallagher also permanently banned the company's president and executive director, Vivian Moore, from working in any capacity for any medical cannabis licensee.

Mother Earth Herbs and Moore were accused of submitting falsified audits to the Health Department. Moore has denied this and plans to fight what she calls false allegations in court.

New Mexico Officials Begin 'Chile Blitz' To Spot Fake ChileAssociated Press

New Mexico officials have launched a "chile blitz" aimed at spotting fake New Mexico chile.

New Mexico Department of Agriculture Standards and Consumer Services inspectors are traveling the state this week to ensure processed and fresh chile products are compliant under the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act.

State law forbids anyone from knowingly advertising or selling chile peppers that claim to be from New Mexico but are from somewhere else.

The law also bans anyone from selling chile from other states with images of New Mexico cities, towns or recognizable state images in advertisements.

'White Nose Syndrome' Fear Surrounds Carlsbad Caverns BatsCarlsbad Current Argus, Associated Press

The half a million Mexican free-tailed bats that call Carlsbad Caverns National Park home could face the threat of the deadly white nose syndrome.

The Carlsbad Current Argus reports multiple federal agencies have mobilized in recent weeks to combat a microscopic organism that could potentially kill off thousands of the bats that make the national park famous.

White nose syndrome was found in bat populations in states across the country, with the closest discovery to New Mexico in Oklahoma and Texas.

It's named for a white, fuzzy growth that develops on the nose, ears and wings of infected bats.

Evidence of white nose syndrome was discovered in New Mexico soil samples and samples of bat dung this spring. But further testing this month determined it was not yet in the state.

Four Corners-Area College Eyes New Student HousingFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

A college in the Four Corners region is finalizing a nearly $25 million dollar partnership to build student housing.

The Farmington Daily Times reports San Juan College officials are working to close a deal that would bring a student housing complex for 380 students to its Farmington campus.

The college’s Executive Vice President says the San Juan College Board of Trustees this month authorized the college President to finalize a pre-development agreement with Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions.

The proposed site of the complex is set for the college's fire tower on the northwest corner of its Farmington main campus near the soccer fields.

Construction is projected to start next spring after the fire tower is demolished. The building may be completed for the Fall 2020 semester.

Sheriff's Office Says Jail Officer Accused Of Raping Inmate – Associated Press

Bernalillo County authorities say a male Metropolitan Detention Center officer is accused of raping a female jail inmate.

The Sheriff's Office says Officer Johnny Reveles was arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual penetration after the inmate said during a court appearance that Reveles raped her Monday while in the shower.

The office says the arrest was based on evidence from statements made by the victim and from evidence obtained from an interview with Reveles.

Online court records don't list an attorney for Reveles who could comment on the allegations.