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No Quick Fix For Budget Standoff, Tensions Rise Over Government Shutdown Warning

Mar 20, 2017

New Mexico Budget Standoff Has No Quick Fix- Associated Press

A political standoff over how to fund New Mexico state government and public schools during the coming fiscal year is showing no sign of quick resolution.

Bills that would authorize $6.1 billion in state spending and companion revenue increases from taxes and fees had not yet reached the governor's desk today because of clerical requirements. 

Gov. Susana Martinez is promising to veto tax increases approved by the Legislature and call lawmakers back to Santa Fe to renegotiate a balanced budget.

The second-term Republican governor says she has put forward options to raise $300 million to shore up state finances without outright tax increases. More than $100 million would come from pension contribution changes that are opposed by fellow Republicans and sweeps from retirement accounts that raise constitutional issues.

Democrats Dismiss New Mexico Government Shutdown TalkAssociated Press

New Mexico Democratic state senators are dismissing predictions by Gov. Susana Martinez that the state is facing a possible government shutdown next month.

Sen. John Arthur Smith said Saturday the Republican governor has plenty of money to "limp along" until this summer and urged her to sign the Legislature's budget sent to her this week.

The Deming Democrat and chair of the Senate Finance Committee says he previously had warned the governor and other lawmakers the state faced a looming budget crisis with declining oil revenues.

Martinez says she will call lawmakers back to the state capital to renegotiate a budget for the coming fiscal year because she objects to proposed increases in taxes and spending. Her office says if lawmakers don't agree to her terms for more spending cuts, state museums will begin to close.

Hundreds Pack New Mexico Congressman's Town Hall Meeting- Associated Press

A standing-room-only crowd of about 500 people showed up Saturday to participate in Republican congressman Steve Pearce’s town hall meeting in Las Cruces.

People packed into a room at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum to participate in the discussion with Rep. Steve Pearce, The Las Cruces Sun-News reported. Pearce, the only Republican member of New Mexico's congressional delegation, was asked to address a multitude of topics during the 2 1/2 hour meeting. People asking for explanations or disagreeing with his comments often interrupted him.

Security officers privately asked some attendees to restrain themselves and escorted several people from the room.

Republicans who want to repeal the Obama administration's health care reforms are facing pushback at constituent gatherings, even in solidly Republican districts.

Pearce has held town hall meetings in Ruidoso and his hometown of Hobbs in recent weeks, but critics have claimed that he is reluctant to meet with his constituents in larger cities like Las Cruces.

Family Of Inmate Who Died In Santa Fe Jail Files LawsuitAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The sister of a man who died at the Santa Fe County Jail in 2015 has filed a lawsuit accusing the county of not properly completing his medical intake screening forms.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that 55-year-old Thomas Pederson died in March 2015 after collapsing and having an apparent seizure at the county jail. According to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday, jail officials should have known Pederson needed medical care for alcohol withdrawal.

Pederson was arrested March 13, 2016, after a State Police officer found him asleep in his parked car. He was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.48, six times the legal driving limit. Pederson was taken to county lockup and collapsed on March 15.

Gov. Martinez Says She Will Veto Minimum Wage BillsSanta Fe New Mexican

New Mexico lawmakers passed two bills to raise the hourly minimum wage, but Gov. Susana Martinez said she would veto both of them.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports one bill would have raised the current statewide minimum of $7.50 an hour to $9. Another would raise it to $9.25. After the 60-day legislation session ended Saturday, Martinez said both are too onerous for small business owners.

Martinez said she would have gone along with a level between $8 and $9. Democrats have highlighted the wage bills as one of their top achievements of the session.

The state’s minimum is slightly higher than the federal minimum wage. But some cities, including Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, have enacted higher minimums.

New Mexico Land Office Preps For Fire Season- Associated Press

The State Land Office is expecting an above-normal fire season and has a plan to treat overgrown sections of the wooded area along the Rio Grande just south of Albuquerque.

Officials say the work begins tomorrow and will include the removal of nonnative Russian olive, salt cedar and elm trees. Seeding the area with native grasses and forbs will follow.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the area is extremely vulnerable to wildfire so the project aims to create conditions that would prevent any flames from reaching treetops and becoming unmanageable.

New Mexico forestry officials say nearly seven square miles have been charred across the state so far this year, and forecasters say a persistent pattern of warm, dry weather will only help to elevate fire danger.

Albuquerque Considers Family-Friendly Upgrade For City Plaza KOB-TV, Associated Press

Albuquerque says it is planning a $5 million makeover for its city plaza, including additions to make the area more family-friendly.

KOB-TV reports that the current plans include building a new playground and replacing the fountain, which keeps breaking.

Mayor Richard Berry says the city is considering replacing the damaged fountain with a family-friendly splash pad, possibly with lighting features. He says the city's arts board is also trying to come up with an iconic art piece that can be incorporated into the plaza.

Berry says the city hopes to break ground this summer.

Changing Climate Threatens New Mexico's Piñon Trees Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Scientists say New Mexico's official state tree is threated by the region's warming and drying climate.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that state scientists and local botanists say signs point to piñon trees across northern New Mexico and other areas of the state being under increasing strain this year.

The piñon is known for its nuts and its distinctive smell when used as firewood. Scientists say the changing climate can leave the tree vulnerable to bug infestation, and it isn't clear yet how severe the problem could become.

Scott Canning, director of horticulture for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, says pine needle scale was widespread in the city last year and is even more prominent this year. He says the disease attacks trees that are weakened by the weather.

Record high in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, UtahAssociated Press

Several cities in the western U.S. saw record-breaking temperatures Saturday.

The National Weather Service reported record highs in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah for March 18.

In Arizona, Phoenix hit 95 degrees, beating by one degree the record high that had held for 10 years. Meanwhile, Yuma reached a high of 96 degrees and Kingman saw 83 degrees, both tying their 110-year-old records set last century in 1907.

California's Death Valley had a high of 99 degrees, surpassing by one degree its record, which was set 70 years ago in 1947.

Las Vegas reached its first 90-degree day of the season, breaking the previous record of 88 degrees set in 1972.

Five places in both New Mexico and Utah, including Salt Lake City, also had record highs.

Native American Education Committee Pulls Back Due To BudgetLos Alamos Monitor, Associated Press

A committee focused on helping the Los Alamos School Board help the district's Native American population succeed academically will scale back its requests in light of decreases in state funding.

The Los Alamos Monitor reports that School Board President Jenny McCumber said at a presentation Tuesday that there's little the district can do with such a small budget.

The LAPS Title VII Parent Advisory Committee presented findings to the school board about what the district could be doing to help Native American students. The committee found that the district needs to address testing and cultural issues.

The Los Alamos school system has 116 American Indian students. On the 2016 PARCC math test, American Indians scored a little over 730 in math and reading. A score of 750 means a student has met expectations.

Albuquerque Boy, 9, Wins New Mexico Spelling BeeAssociated Press

A fourth-grader from Albuquerque has been named the new state spelling bee champion.

Nine-year-old Akilan Sankaran beat 38 other competitors Saturday at the 70th annual New Mexico Spelling Bee held at an Albuquerque school.

He took the title by correctly spelling the word "retablo," which Merriam-Webster defines as "a votive offering made in the form of a religious picture typically portraying Christian saints painted on a panel and hung in a church or chapel."

The Manzano Day School student will now move on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. The national competition will be held in May.

The young winner said he was surprised he won.

To Aid Ferrets, Vaccine Treats Planned For Prairie DogsAssociated Press

Feeding vaccine nuggets to prairie dogs could help bring back a species of prairie weasel that almost went extinct.

Scientists thought the black-footed ferret was extinct until a Wyoming ranch dog brought a ferret home in 1981.

One of the biggest barriers to restoring the black-footed ferret to Western ranges is plague, a disease that kills prairie dogs by the thousand. Black-footed ferrets feed almost exclusively on prairie dogs, meaning plague can leave ferrets without enough to eat.

To help black-footed ferrets, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others plan to vaccinate prairie dogs against plague in several Western states later this year.

They will use all-terrain vehicles and possibly drones to disperse vaccine pellets across as much as 40 square miles of ferret habitat.

UNM Sees Decline In International Student ApplicationsAlbuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico is seeing a drop in applications from foreign students, whose numbers have been growing on campus in recent years.

The Albuquerque Journal reports applications for graduate school from international students dropped 16 percent compared to this time last year. The largest declines were from potential students in India, Iran and Mexico.

Acting President Chaouki Abdallah told the Board of Regents that students may feel the U.S. is not welcoming and could be a difficult place to find employment.

In the last academic year, UNM had students from 100 countries, including the United States. Pablo Torres, UNM’s director of international recruitment and admissions, says recruiters in India for the university have recently fielded questions about student visas, safety and President Trump’s travel ban.

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