Record Oil Production Lifts State Income, State Signs Settlement On Living Conditions For Inmates

Aug 29, 2019

Record Oil Production Lifts New Mexico State Income, Risks - Associated Press

Government income continues to surge in a state with the highest rate of poverty in the western U.S. amid record-setting oil and natural gas production in New Mexico.

Economists from three state agencies and the Legislature said Wednesday that state general fund income for the coming fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2020, is expected to surpass current annual spending obligations by $907 million. That represents a nearly 13% surplus over current spending levels.

Most of the fiscal windfall is linked to steadily growing oil and natural gas production focused in the Permian Basin that straddles the state line between New Mexico and Texas.

The fiscal forecast holds major implications for public school budgets, tax incentives to the film industry and an array of state government services.

New Mexico Likely To Hike Upper-Income Tax Rate - Associated Press

A state economist says New Mexico is likely to increase state income tax rates on upper-income households based on trends in state revenue.

Chief Economist Dawn Iglesias of the Legislative Finance Committee said Wednesday that the state revenue growth is likely to stay within a range that would trigger a new 5.9% tax rate, up from 4.9%.

Legislation adopted this year triggers the rate increase if the annual state general fund grows less than 5% or decreases.

New Mexico Signs Settlement On Living Conditions For Inmates - Associated Press

The governor of New Mexico says a preliminary agreement has been reached on living conditions for prison inmates that would resolve long-running litigation shaped by the aftermath of deadly 1980 riots at the state penitentiary.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday the preliminary settlement agreement in federal court aimed at ensuring that inmates are afforded constitutional protections to humane treatment.

The agreement would end the so-called Duran consent decree that established requirements for conditions within the state corrections system.

The Corrections Department has agreed to transfer hundreds of inmates among facilities to ensure adequate individual living space and to take new steps toward increasing staffing at prisons.

Lujan Grisham says the agreement gives the state flexibility in developing new policies on living conditions and relieves future litigation costs.

Low Take-Home Pay May Hinder State Hiring Efforts - Associated Press

A new study shows average take-home pay for New Mexico state employees is the lowest in a seven-state region and may be hindering efforts to expand the ranks of qualified state workers.

Announced on Wednesday, the briefing by the Legislature's nonpartisan budget office shows New Mexico state workers take home less than 55% of total compensation including retirement benefits.

That trails states including Texas, Colorado and Arizona. Higher employee insurance costs are an important factor.

The State Personnel Office is trying to increase staffing at many agencies as New Mexico shifts from austerity measures to hiring amid a budget surplus.

The report cites recent difficulties in retaining new employees and asks whether young workers might prefer more take home pay to a benefits-rich compensation package.

Xcel To Move Forward With $900M Wind Farm In New Mexico - Associated Press

Xcel Energy says construction on a $900 million wind farm will begin later this year in eastern New Mexico.

The utility announced its plans to go forward with the Sagamore Wind Project on Wednesday, saying it will make up the final component of a major wind energy expansion that was first rolled out in 2017.

The 522-megawatt wind farm will be located near Portales.

It will be the largest single wind facility in New Mexico when completed in late 2020, capable of meeting the annual electricity needs of nearly 194,000 homes.

Xcel has completed its development phase and grid interconnection studies, paving the way for construction. The project will support about 400 construction jobs and 30 full-time jobs.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas were among those excited about the announcement.

New Mexico Poets Holding Fundraiser For El Paso Victims - Associated Press

The poet laureate of New Mexico's largest city is helping organize a poetry reading fundraising for the victims of the El Paso mass shooting.

Michelle Otero will convene Thursday a group of New Mexico-based poets at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque to honor the victims. The event also will include a vigil.

Otero says the gathering is a way for writers to help with the healing process amid the anxiety felt among many Latinos.

Proceeds from the reading will go to the El Paso Shooting Victims' Fund.

Earlier month, police say a shooter, who is white, opened fire at an El Paso Walmart, killing 22.

Investigators believe the alleged gunman wrote an anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant online rant before the shooting.

New Mexico Gets Funding For 37 Road, Trail Projects - Associated Press

More than two dozen communities across New Mexico will share more than $32 million in federal funding for numerous transportation and recreational trail projects.

State transportation officials say the 37 projects will account for more than $41 million in investments over the next four years when leveraged with local dollars and in-kind services.

The projects range from flashing speed signs at all schools in Los Alamos County to reconstruction of the Upper Catwalk Trail in the Gila National Forest.

More than $5 million will be used to design and construct a multi-use trail connecting schools, homes and the community center at Jemez Pueblo along New Mexico Highway 4.

NM Republicans Warn Against Government Expansion - Associated Press

Republican legislators are warning against the permanent expansion of state government as New Mexico anticipates a continued windfall in revenues linked largely to oil and natural gas production.

House Republican minority leader James Townsend of Artesia said Wednesday in a statement that new money should be used to invest in highway improvements or high-speed internet infrastructure and not "big government" policies. He also wants reforms that would reduce tax rates on sales and services while eliminating exemptions.

GOP Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho says the state is spending a lot on film-industry incentives and should invest more broadly in economic development.

State economists say general fund revenues for the coming fiscal year will exceed current annual spending by more than $900 million. They also say state finances are at increasing risk if the oil sector falters.

A panel of legislators met in the mountain resort of Red River to study ways to shield state finances from boom-and-bust cycles in the oil sector. 

New Mexico Center Gets More Alcohol Research Funding - Associated Press

The New Mexico Alcohol Research Center is getting a $7.5 million grant to continue its work to better understand fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has awarded the center a five-year renewal of a specialized grant.

The center is one of 16 alcohol research centers in the United States. It brings together faculty investigators who are focused on the neurobiological consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure as part of an effort to develop better diagnoses and more effective interventions.

Center director Dan Savage says fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASD, affect more than 2% of children in New Mexico.

The grant will allow the center to continue with biomedical research and clinical studies. The center also works to increase awareness.

Cibola National Forest Fire Continues To Grow In New Mexico - Associated Press

A wildfire in Cibola National Forest continues to grow as around 130 firefighters work to fight the inferno.

New Mexico and federal fire officials said late Tuesday the blaze has swelled to 8 square miles and is around 28% contained.

Recent rains have created favorable conditions, allowing fire managers from the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands to manage the wildfire near an inactive stratovolcano in the San Mateo Mountains.

Officials say the fire was caused by lightning on August 4. It's located about 100 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Brew The Tears: Beer Fans 'CANvention' Opens In New MexicoAssociated Press

It's "CANvention" time for hundreds of beer aficionados.

Collectors from around the world began buying, trading and selling containers of brews Thursday at the 49th annual gathering of members of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America.

One collector said some of the mostly empty vessels of beer are selling for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars, while others are opting to swap their six-packs with fellow fans of foam.

Rich La Susa, of Gold Canyon, Arizona, says he has attended all but one of the gatherings since the group started meeting in 1970.

The group was formed after collector Denver Wright, Jr. placed an ad in a St. Louis newspaper looking for like-minded compatriots.

After the swapping ends, some participants said they were going to a beer tasting.

Report: US Native American Health Agency At CrossroadsAssociated Press

Emergency rooms shut down for months. Hospital policies put patients at risk for opioid abuse and overdoses. A longtime pediatrician was charged with sexually abusing children.

The federal agency that administers health care to more than 2.5 million Native Americans has long been plagued with problems.

Money, staffing, infrastructure, health disparities and lack of accountability all have played a part.

A federal report released Thursday said things won't get better unless the Indian Health Service takes a serious look at its organizational structure.

The report by the U.S. Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General is meant to maintain pressure on the Indian Health Service.

The agency recently released a five-year plan to address access to health care, quality, management and operators. It says change will take time.

New Mexico Posts Online Its Settlement PayoutsAssociated Press

Dozens of financial settlements are being posted online that resolve claims against New Mexico state government for civil rights violations, malpractice, whistleblower retaliation and other misconduct.

The General Services Department on Thursday opened access to financial settlements negotiated by the state's risk management division that provides legal representation to public employees and state agencies.

The move responds to concerns about undisclosed multimillion-dollar payouts to resolve claims of discrimination and retaliation against Public Safety Department officials and other state personnel under the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez.

Financial terms of settlements are available at the state's website clearinghouse for public information known as the Sunshine Portal. Newly disclosed settlement run the gamut from a $3,500 civil rights settlement to a $290,000 payout for medical malpractice.

New Challenge Heard To Trump's Emergency For Border Wall Associated Press

Legal groups are mounting another challenge to President Donald Trump's use of Pentagon funding for a border wall one month after the Supreme Court ruled in Trump's favor.

A judge heard arguments Thursday in El Paso, Texas, over a lawsuit filed by the local county government and an immigrant advocacy group, the Border Network for Human Rights.

U.S. District Judge David Briones didn't immediately rule on a request for a preliminary injunction.

Kristy Parker, a lawyer for the legal group Protect Democracy Project, says the lawsuit makes broader arguments than the case presented to the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department argues Trump's declaration of a national emergency to fund the wall cannot be reviewed by any judge. The department declined comment Thursday.

Crews in Arizona and New Mexico are currently building sections of barriers.

Investigators Rule New Mexico Fireworks Explosion Accidental Associated Press

Investigators have determined that a fireworks explosion that killed a New Mexico firefighter and severely injured another was accidental.

The Roswell Daily Record reported Wednesday that Roswell firefighters were packaging fireworks on June 5 for the city's Independence Day celebration when the explosion occurred.

The blast led to the death of 46-year-old Jeff Stroble on July 21. Hoby Bonham was sent home from the hospital in late June.

The report from the state fire marshal's office says the firefighters were fusing aerial shell fireworks with electric matches.

It says an initial explosion caused the rest of the fireworks to ignite, blowing out the walls of a building at the Roswell International Air Center.

The city declined to comment, citing possible litigation over the blast.

Federal Complaint Targets New Mexico Horse Racing Associated Press

A horse owner and a trainer from Texas say officials in New Mexico are failing to follow their own policies and regulations in overseeing the state's multimillion-dollar racing industry.

They're suing in U.S. District Court, alleging their rights to due process were violated when the executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission allowed horses belonging to a trainer suspended for suspicion of illegal drugging to compete under other trainers.

The plaintiffs say they missed an opportunity to compete in the recent All American Futurity because the transferred horses were allowed to run and place in trials for the prestigious race.

Commission executive director Izzy Trejo declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The case comes as concerns swirl around drug testing, the certification of track stewards and other issues.

New Mexico Agencies Seek Combined Leverage On Drug PricingAssociated Press

A new consortium of public agencies in New Mexico has begun efforts to leverage the state's purchasing power to reduce consumer costs for prescription drugs.

The Interagency Pharmaceuticals Purchasing Council held its first meeting Thursday that brings together representatives from nine state agencies and institutions.

Member agencies include the Human Services Department that oversees Medicaid, Corrections Department, University of New Mexico and health care insurance authorities for retired public employees and educators.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces sponsored legislation to create the council and helped arrange $400,000 in initial funding for staffing and financial analysis.

He says the collaborative group represents the interests of about a million consumers and will pursue multimillion-dollar opportunities for savings on pharmaceuticals.

The council is directed by General Service Department Secretary Ken Ortiz.

Police: 9-Year-Old Girl In Good Condition After Being ShotAssociated Press

Albuquerque police say a 9-year-old is hospitalized in good condition after being shot.

Police say the girl's father told police his daughter was wounded by a ricochet Wednesday when another person walking through an apartment complex pulled out a handgun and it malfunctioned, causing it to fire into concrete.

According to police, detectives will work to try to determine the identity of the person who discharged the gun.

New Mexico Official: Retake State Land Leased To EpsteinAssociated Press

New Mexico's attorney general is recommending officials retake state trust land that had been leased to financier Jeffrey Epstein's ranch south of Santa Fe.

Attorney General Hector Balderas outlined his recommendations Thursday in a letter to State Public Lands Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard.

A small portion of Epstein's roughly 10,000-acre ranch includes state trust land that the attorney general says was meant for cattle grazing.

Balderas say a minimal amount of ranching was conducted on the land and that the leases were improperly granted.

Balderas accused Epstein of using the leased land to build privacy around his ranch.

Epstein killed himself in a New York jail cell Aug. 10 while awaiting his sex trafficking trial.

More than a dozen women spoke out in court this week about sexual abuse they say they suffered as his victims.

Body Of Missing New Mexico Man Found In ArizonaAssociated Press

Authorities say the body of a New Mexico man who went missing last month has been found in Arizona.

Police say the body of 44-year-old Craig Cavanaugh of Farmington was identified Wednesday in Coconino County in northern Arizona.

Farmington police say Cavanaugh was last seen on July 4. He was traveling to Peoria, Arizona for a job.

Police say two men used his credit cards in Payson, Glendale, and Peoria between July 5 and July 7.

Cavanaugh's truck was found on July 12.

Sheriff's offices in Coconino County and Navajo County are investigating the death.

Authorities say they have identified two suspects. Their names have not been released.

Witness: Fatal Shooting Stemmed From Request To Borrow WaterAssociated Press

A New Mexico man is facing charges in connection with a fatal shooting that a witness said stemmed from a request to borrow water.

KOB-TV reports Richard Maliszewski appeared in an Albuquerque court Tuesday on a murder charge for the shooting death of Christopher Yazzie.

According to a criminal complaint, the 70-year-old Maliszewski told authorities a neighbor has threatened him with a bat so he shot him in the head.

But Yazzie's fiancée told investigators she and Yazzie had no running water in their home and she went next door to ask Maliszewski for some. The fiancé says Maliszewski started

yelling racial slurs at her.

She says Maliszewski shot an unarmed Yazzie who went over to confront him.

It was not known if Maliszewski had an attorney.

 State: 8 Cases Of Severe Lung Disease From Vaping, E-Cigs Associated Press

New Mexico Department of Health officials say they're now investigating eight cases of severe lung disease associated with vaping and e-cigarette use.

They say the eight state residents have required hospitalization following the development of respiratory symptoms such as cough and difficulty breathing.

Five of them required intensive care during their hospitalizations.

State health officials also say all of patients who have been interviewed regarding vaping behavior reported the use of vape cartridges containing Tetra hydro cannabinol (THC) oil.

The patients range from 17 to 46 years of age, five are male and all eight live in either Santa Fe, Los Alamos or Bernalillo county.