Rating Agency Says New Mexico Pension Woes Persist, Democrat Toulouse Oliver Eyes US Senate Run

Apr 12, 2019

Rating Agency Says New Mexico Pension Woes Persist - Associated Press

An international credit rating agency says New Mexico's unfunded pension obligations to public employees continue to cast a shadow over government finances.

Moody's Investor Service on Thursday said that a general fund budget plan recently signed by the governor improves the financial health of public schools and community colleges.

Annual state spending on public education is set to increase by a half-billion dollars.

Moody's says pension reforms this year did not increase contributions by enough to reduce the problem of unfunded financial liabilities. Employer pension contributions rise by 0.25% starting July 1.

Education Retirement Board Executive Director Jan Goodwin disagrees with the negative assessment. She cites a new law that delays the rapid accrual of pension benefits for future educational workers until they surpass 20 years of service.

Democrat Toulouse Oliver Eyes US Senate Run In New Mexico - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is expected to jump in the 2020 race for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Toulouse Oliver campaign adviser Heather Brewer said Thursday the Democrat is actively talking to residents and will make an announcement later this month about her plans.

Her potential entrance into the race could set up a contentious Democratic primary since U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan has already said he's running for the Senate seat.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall announced in March he was retiring.

Toulouse Oliver first was elected to Secretary of State in 2015 after a special election. She easily won re-election in 2018. She'd be the state's first female U.S. Senator.

Lujan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014 but has not run for statewide office.

Attorneys: Honduran Transgender Migrant Unlawfully Detained - Associated Press

Civil rights attorneys are requesting the release of a Honduran transgender migrant who they say has been unlawfully held — at times in solitary confinement — at an immigration detention center in New Mexico.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico in a court filing Thursday said Nicole Garcia Aguilar was initially granted asylum by a U.S. judge in October, but the government appealed the ruling over arguments about the credibility of her claims.

The filing contends Garcia Aguilar remains in custody despite a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that people who have been granted asylum generally merit release pending appeal.

Immigration authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Garcia Aguilar was among a wave of Central American migrants who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in early 2018.

Closings Set In Trial Of Man Charged In Officer's Death - Associated Press

Attorneys plan to make their final case in the trial of a man who has been charged with killing an Albuquerque police officer.

Closing arguments are expected to begin Friday morning before Davon Lymon's case is sent to the jury.

Lymon, who is 38, is charged with murder and other lesser counts in connection with Officer Daniel Webster's death.

Prosecutors have sought to argue that Lymon shot Webster in October 2015 because he was a felon in possession of a firearm who did not want to return to prison.

Lymon testified that he opened fire during a traffic stop because he feared for his life.

He already has been sentenced in federal court to four decades in prison after being convicted of firearms-related charges and other crimes.

-Update- Prosecutor: Man Shot Albuquerque Officer 6 Times – Associated Press

A New Mexico prosecutor reviewed video for jurors in her closing arguments as she sought to underscore that an Albuquerque police officer was shot six times, including in the neck, by a man on a motorcycle in October 2015.

Clara Moran, of the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, delivered closing arguments Friday in the trial of Davon Lymon. He is charged with murder and other counts in the death of Officer Daniel Webster.

Moran argues that Lymon made "a deliberate and conscious choice to take the life of Daniel Webster."

Authorities say Lymon shot Webster during a traffic stop.

Lymon testified during his trial that he opened fire because he feared for his life.

His attorneys still must deliver their closing arguments before the case is sent to the jury.

Environmental Group IDs New Mexico Methane Emissions Surge -by Morgan Lee Associated Press

A prominent environmental group announced new evidence Thursday that methane emissions in New Mexico are climbing amid a surge in oil and natural gas production in the Permian Basin drilling zone that straddles the state boundary with Texas.

The analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that statewide emissions at oil and natural gas production sites of the potent heat-trapping gas linked to global warming are five times higher than what is reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA tracks emissions by large petroleum producers.

Defense Fund scientist David Lyon said the analysis incorporates methane sensor measurements from about 90 locations in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas in mid-2018. That monitoring was done by a research team from the University of Wyoming.

4 Corners Airport Hopes Upgrades Woo Commercial Flights - Farmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Officials at the Four Corners Regional Airport in northwestern New Mexico hope proposed upgrades will bring commercial airlines back.

The Farmington Daily Times reports a five-year $23.2 million plan presented this week calls for improvements to runways, installation of an engineered material arresting system and taxiway relocation.

Airport Manager Mike Lewis told the Farmington City Council the upgrades could be used to attract commercial air service back to the airport.

No commercial airline has landed a plane at the Four Corners Regional Airport since 2017.

Farmington Economic Development Director Warren Unsicker says the commercial air service will help Farmington as it works to accomplish goals like increasing tourism, attracting retirees and building an aerospace industry.

Irrigation Allotment Set For Southern New Mexico Farmers - Associated Press

Southern New Mexico farmers who depend on the Rio Grande will begin getting their share of irrigation water in early June.

Officials with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District say farmers can expect to start with an allotment of 6 inches per acre. That's about 163,000 gallons.

The district's water adviser, Phillip King, says that allocation could increase depending on how much snow melt and spring runoff ends up in the river. He says upstream watersheds are dry so some runoff is expected to replenish the soil before having a chance to flow downstream.

Storage levels in Elephant Butte Reservoir currently sit at about 14 percent of capacity following what water managers across the state have described as a brutal year in 2018.

Gallup Diocese Adds Ex-new Jersey Priest To List Of Accused - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

The Diocese of Gallup in New Mexico has added the name of another priest to its list of credibly accused sex abusers.

The Gallup Independent reports the diocese said this week it was adding Thomas M. Harkins, who served three months at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Page, Arizona from October 1981 to January 1982.

The Diocese of Camden removed Harkins from the priesthood in 2002 following allegations of child sexual abuse.

Church officials in Gallup say they are not aware of any complaints or allegations regarding Harkins during his brief time in Arizona.

Harkins made the national news in 2012 following media reports he had been hired by the Transportation Security Administration and was working at the Philadelphia International Airport.

New Mexico Climber Dies In Fall On Alaska Mountain - Associated Press

A New Mexico man died in a fall from a mountain east of Alaska's largest city.

Alaska State Troopers say 25-year-old Daniel Dresher died Wednesday on Goat Mountain near Eklutna Lake. His hometown was not immediately available.

Troopers say Dresher's climbing partner reported he had fallen. The second climber attempted to descend to reach Dresher and lost phone contact.

The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center based at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson launched a helicopter and a rescue crew to help search for the climbers.

Troopers say Dresher fell about 500 feet and was killed.

The helicopter crew recovered his body.

New Mexico Official Rejects Gun Control Petition AgainAssociated Press

New Mexico's top election regulator has rejected for the second time an attempt to challenge a new gun control measure through a statewide referendum.

House minority leader James Townsend of Artesia last week submitted a revamped proposed petition to Democrat Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver for consideration.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Toulouse Oliver declined to approve the petition, saying the law to expand background checks to nearly all private gun sales was designed to improve public safety and therefore is exempt from such referendums.

Her decision could prompt a legal challenge over the legislation and the state's restrictions on referendums.

The petition process has lengthy requirements that include the collection of about 70,000 signatures before the matter could be put on a ballot for voters to decide.

US Lab Addresses Seismic Concerns, Resumes Waste ShipmentsAssociated Press

Officials at one of the nation's top nuclear weapons laboratories say a special indoor facility for shipping radioactive waste is back in operation after five years.

Los Alamos National Laboratory said Friday the facility received federal authorization to reopen earlier this year and the first shipment was loaded up and sent off this week to the government's nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico.

Shipments from the facility stopped in 2014 following questions about its ability to withstand a large earthquake event. The lab then developed a new strategy for operations to accommodate concerns.

As plutonium manufacturing ramps up at the lab so will the amount of waste generated, and officials say successful operations at the loading facility will be crucial.

The waste includes gloves, booties, tools and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements.