KUNM

NM Sees Rebound In Tax Revenues, O'Keeffe Painting Gifted To NM Museum

Dec 4, 2017

New Mexico Sees Rebound In Tax Revenues, Oil SectorThe Associated Press

State economists told a panel of lawmakers on Monday that surging state tax revenues and a rebound in the oil and natural gas sectors are propelling a rapid turnaround in New Mexico government finances. State government income for the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2018, is expected to surpass current annual spending by $199 million.

The forecast signaled that state government is emerging from two years of austerity measures that resulted in slashed spending at state universities and colleges, while threatening funding for classrooms, courts and museums.

Economists at four state agencies told lawmakers to expect an additional 3.3 percent in general fund spending money over the current $6.1 billion budget.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said much of the new revenues will be needed to replenish drained state accounts, citing state funding for roads in particular.

Jon Clark, chief economist with the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee, warned that the state remains heavily reliant on fluctuating income from the oil and natural gas sectors.

Georgia O'Keeffe Painting Gifted To New Mexico MuseumThe Associated Press

One of Georgia O'Keeffe's abstract interpretations of the desert is now part of the New Mexico Museum of Art's permanent collection.

Officials made the announcement Monday as the museum celebrates its centennial year.

The 1931 piece titled 'Desert Abstraction' had been on loan for years from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. Art museum executive director Mary Kershaw said she was grateful for the foundation making the gift permanent.

The painting is currently on display at the governor's residence.

A major figure in the American Modernist movement, O'Keeffe became inspired by the state after her first visit in 1929. She eventually made northern New Mexico her permanent home in 1949.

O'Keeffe continued to paint until weeks before her death in Santa Fe in 1986.

New Mexico Awaits Budget Forecast As Revenues SurgeThe Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are learning how much money they'll have to spend on state agencies and public schools in the coming fiscal year.

Economists from four state agencies will provide an estimate Monday of tax revenues to a budget-writing committee of lawmakers.

The Legislature convenes in January to craft a budget for the fiscal year that starts in July.

Recent economic measures show a surge in state tax revenues linked to a rebound in the oil and natural gas sectors. The changes are allowing New Mexico to replenish reserve accounts that ensure state government can withstand an economic downturn.

Spending at state colleges and universities was slashed during the current fiscal year to bridge a budget gap. New Mexico's $6.1 billion budget relies heavily on oil and natural gas revenues.

New Mexico AG Seeks Meeting With University OfficialsThe Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas' office is calling for a meeting with top officials at the University of New Mexico as an investigation continues into the handling of public money by the athletics department.

The office sent a letter to interim university President Chaouki Abdallah on Friday, expressing concerns that a retired judge was tapped by the school to do an independent review but that the findings were reported only directly to Abdallah.

State prosecutors say without a written report, the findings can't be reviewed by regents, lawmakers, the attorney general's office or the university's next president.

Abdallah said in a recent statement that he would not talk specifics, but that the university is working with nationally-recognized experts as to the next steps, including looking further across multiple areas of the institution.

Questions Swirl About Plutonium Pit Production At Los AlamosThe Associated Press

The agency that oversees the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile has yet to release a report on the risks and capabilities of Los Alamos National Laboratory and other U.S. Energy Department sites when it comes to producing plutonium cores for the weapons.

The report by the National Nuclear Security Administration was due over the summer but nothing has been made public other than a redacted summary sheet obtained by a watchdog group in the wake of recent congressional briefings.

The summary suggests it would be most costly to continue producing plutonium pits at Los Alamos.

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation suggest the evaluation process was flawed. Others are voicing concerns about Los Alamos' safety record.

No new pits have been made since 2011. The Energy Department wants to ramp up production to 80 pits annually by 2030.

New Mexico AG Seeks Meeting With University OfficialsAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas' office is calling for a meeting with top officials at the University of New Mexico as an investigation continues into the handling of public money by the athletics department.

The office sent a letter to interim university President Chaouki Abdallah on Friday, expressing concerns that a retired judge was tapped by the school to do an independent review but that the findings were reported only directly to Abdallah.

State prosecutors say without a written report, the findings can't be reviewed by regents, lawmakers, the attorney general's office or the university's next president.

Abdallah said in a recent statement that he would not talk specifics, but that the university is working with nationally-recognized experts as to the next steps, including looking further across multiple areas of the institution.

2 New Mexico Inmates Win Honors In Prison Writing ContestThe Associated Press

Two New Mexico prison inmates have won honors in the prestigious PEN America's Prison Writing Contest.

The organization announced in November that Dominic Murphy, convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder, took second place for poetry. Murphy is serving a life sentence in the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility for killing two men in 2003.

Dylan Jeffrey, convicted of child rape, took third place for drama writing. Jeffrey currently is incarcerated at the Otero County Prison Facility and serving a 54-year sentence for his 2005 conviction.

Every year, hundreds of inmates from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction and dramatic works to PEN America's Prison Writing Contest.

Founded in 1971, PEN's prison writing program works to provide inmates with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work.

New Mexico State's Bowl Game Jolts Long-Struggling Program Associated Press

The last time New Mexico State played in a college football bowl game, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, gas ran around $.29 a gallon, and Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" was the nation's #1 song.

The long-struggling Aggies this weekend ended its nearly six-decade bowl drought and are headed to the Arizona Bowl.

New Mexico State defeated South Alabama in a last-minute come-from-behind 22-17 win Saturday to become bowl eligible, sparking excitement at a school that has seen recent budget cuts.

The Aggies accepted an invitation to the Arizona Bowl in Tucson, Arizona, on Dec. 29 to face Utah State — a school New Mexico State defeated in its last bowl appearance.

The postseason game comes after Sun Belt Conference told New Mexico State this was its final season as a football-only member.

University Leaders Make Case To Keep Managing Los Alamos LabSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

University of California leaders were in New Mexico arguing that despite safety and operational lapses at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the university system alone has the experience and expertise to manage the nuclear weapons lab — a role the university essentially has had since the lab's inception.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports University of California Vice President for National Laboratories Kim Budil says the laboratory "has consistently been rated for their excellence in science and in support of their missions" in the 12 years since the university began co-managing the lab as part of a consortium with three private companies.

The university has managed Los Alamos since the 1940s. Then-lab Director Pete Nanos temporarily shut down operations in 2004 after a student was injured and classified disks went missing. Thousands of other issues came to light, and the Department of Energy put the lab contract out for bid in response.

Correction: This story corrects a story from December 4 when the Associated Press reported, and KUNM broadcast, inaccurate information about the year that lab operations were temporarily halted. The shutdown occurred in 2004, not 2014. We regret the error. 

Albuquerque Sees Record High Number Of Homicides This YearAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

With more than 70 murder investigations so far, Albuquerque is seeing the highest number of homicides in a single year in recent history.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that four deaths last week have raised the number of murders to 71.

Police spokeswoman Hannah Glasgow says they include three separate shooting deaths, including that of a 17-year-old boy, and the stabbing of a 22-year-old man allegedly committed by his brother.

Former Mayor Richard Berry faced criticism in recent months for a rising crime rate.

The previous record was 70 murders in 1996. But the rate then is considered higher because there were 140,000 fewer residents then.

Officials say the number of homicides has climbed since 2014 and do not include justified killings.

Angel Fire Republican In Race To Challenge Congressman LujanAssociated Press

At least one Republican has entered the race for a northern New Mexico congressional seat held by Democratic Congressman Ben Ray Lujan.

Steve McFall announced this week he will seek the GOP nomination to challenge Lujan in the largely Democratic district.

The Angel Fire resident hopes to become the first Republican to represent the 3rd Congressional District since 1999.

Born in Raton, McFall is a farmer who also works in the ski industry and has never held elected office. He unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the same seat in 2014.

McFall says he would focus on defense spending as a congressman.

The primary election is scheduled for June 5.

Officials Say Saving Rare Mussel Could Help Restore RiverAssociated Press

Officials are hoping efforts to save a rare mussel found in southeast New Mexico could lead to restoring a struggling river back to its past strength.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports a stretch of the Black River south of Carlsbad is home to about 48,000 Texas hornshell mussels.

Hornshells were once plentiful in areas near Carlsbad and Roswell, but now they occupy about 12 percent of their historic range.

Endangered species advocate Taylor Jones says the mussels are imperiled, indicating habitat problems from river industrial uses.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested last year for the mussel to be listed as an endangered species. A final determination is expected in February.

Landowners along the river oppose the action, claiming it could impose federal regulations that would impede their water rights.

Lawyers Walk Fine Line To Navigate State, Federal Pot Laws - By Brian Melley, Associated Press

Entrepreneurs looking to get into the retail pot business need a good lawyer and some of those lawyers might be wise to consult an attorney of their own.

Attorneys entering the burgeoning business after a healthy dose of soul searching and risk assessment.

Attorney Larry Donahue had several medical marijuana clients at his firm in Albuquerque until the state bar issued a January 2016 opinion that said lawyers could be exposed to ethics charges for such work. Donahue had to terminate four or five clients.

State laws legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes are in stark conflict with federal law, which treats the drug as a controlled substance — in the same category as heroin.

That means criminal prosecution is a possibility for anyone involved in the industry, including the lawyers needed to navigate contracts, intellectual property, real estate and banking issues.

As California moves to legalize retail marijuana sales, attorneys in the business say they feel they can safely do the work needed.

US Officials Drop Mining Cleanup Rule After Industry ObjectsAssociated Press

President Donald Trump's administration is dropping a proposal that would have forced mining companies to prove they have the financial wherewithal to clean up their pollution.

Friday's announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency comes after industry groups and Western-state Republicans pushed back against the proposal first made under former President Barack Obama.

The U.S. mining industry has a long history of abandoning contaminated sites, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for cleanups. Thousands of abandoned mines leak contaminated water into rivers, streams and other waterways, including hundreds of cases in which the EPA has intervened.

Since 1980, at least 52 mines and mine processing sites using modern techniques had spills or other releases of pollution, according to documents released by the EPA last year.

In 2015, an EPA cleanup team accidentally triggered a 3-million gallon spill of contaminated water from Colorado's inactive Gold King mine, tainting rivers in three states, including New Mexico, with heavy metals including arsenic and lead.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement that modern industry practices and state and federal rules already in place adequately address the risks from hard-rock mining.

2 New Mexico Inmates Win Honors In Prison Writing ContestAssociated Press

Two New Mexico prison inmates have won honors in the prestigious PEN America's Prison Writing Contest.

The organization announced in November that Dominic Murphy, convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder, took second place for poetry. Murphy is serving a life sentence in the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility for killing two men in 2003.

Dylan Jeffrey, convicted of child rape, took third place for drama writing. Jeffrey currently is incarcerated at the Otero County Prison Facility and serving a 54-year sentence for his 2005 conviction.

Every year, hundreds of inmates from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction and dramatic works to PEN America's Prison Writing Contest.

Founded in 1971, PEN's prison writing program works to provide inmates with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work.

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