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Santa Fe Voters Turn Down Tax Increase, New Mexico Presses Forward With Medicaid Copays

Sep 20, 2017

Santa Fe County Voters Turn Down Proposed Sales Tax IncreaseThe Associated Press

Santa Fe County voters have soundly rejected a proposed sales tax increase that would have raised money for behavioral health services and public safety jobs.

The proposal would have raised the gross receipts tax rate by one-sixteenth of 1-cent. Officials say it would have generated about $2 million a year.

According to unofficial results provided by the county clerk's office Tuesday, 70 percent of the Santa Fe County voters rejected the proposed increase.

Santa Fe County commissioners approved a one-eighth-cent sales tax increase in June to raise $4.6 million annually for new safety personnel positions and the creation of a behavioral health triage center, to be located in Santa Fe.

New Mexico Presses Forward With Medicaid Premiums, CopaysThe Associated Press

New Mexico is pressing forward with plans to limit increases in state spending on Medicaid health care for low-income and disabled residents by adding monthly premiums and copays from patients, as Senate Republicans in Washington contemplate fundamental changes to Medicaid.

State officials will brief lawmakers Wednesday on an array of proposed changes to the state's Medicaid health care program designed to keep costs down while improving the delivery of health care for New Mexico's poorest residents.

Consumer advocates are warning that that plans to charge premiums and copays for people living just above the federally defined poverty level could end up reducing or delaying the use of health care services.

Concerns are overshadowed by a U.S. Senate proposal to repeal Medicaid's expansion to about 250,000 individuals in New Mexico.

School Board Member Denies Role In Embezzlement CaseThe Associated Press

A member of the Albuquerque Public Schools education board is denying she had any role in the alleged embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars from a troubled charter school she helped establish.

In a statement released by her attorney, Analee Maestas said she had not been aware of any alleged criminal activity involving her daughter's role as the former assistant business manager at La Promesa Early Learning Center.

Maestas also stated her daughter's substance abuse problems were directly related to issues outlined in a recent report by the state auditor.

No charges have been filed, but auditors have accused the daughter of depositing checks worth more than $475,000 into her personal bank account after signing them over to herself.

Previously, Maestas was forced to step down as the school's executive director after auditors determined she doctored a receipt for reimbursement.

University Of New Mexico Expands Drug Testing For AthletesThe Associated Press

The University of New Mexico will be expanding drug and alcohol testing for its athletes.

Interim University President Chaouki Abdallah met with coaches Tuesday and announced the expanded program.

University officials told the Albuquerque Journal that expanding the program was the right thing to do.

The new initiative will be an additional layer of testing that coaches already had the option of doing with their athletes, though each sport had to fund it out of its own budget. Most budgets at UNM have been frozen for several years.

Football and swimming were the only sports doing additional testing on a regular basis. Men's basketball had started to do so since the April hire of new coach Paul Weir.

Abdallah said the estimated $20,000 annual tab for the additional testing will be picked up by main campus.

US Provides $1M Grant For Business Incubator In AlbuquerqueThe Associated Press

The federal government is providing a $1 million grant for establishment of a biosciences business incubator in Albuquerque.

The Commerce Department says it's estimated the grant for Innovate ABQ Inc. will create 155 jobs, retain 80 jobs and generate $2.5 million in private investment.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says a statement released Wednesday by the department that the grant is part of efforts to "provide entrepreneurs and residents with a new opportunity to grow and develop their own businesses in their local community."

The department says the funding will support the design, development and renovation of an existing building for the incubator.

New Mexico Elections Agency Defends Campaign RestrictionsAssociated Press

New Mexico campaign finance regulators are sticking to conclusions that drastically limit Republican Congressman Steve Pearce's access to federal campaign funds as he runs for governor.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver filed a response Tuesday to a lawsuit by Pearce that seeks access to $1 million in campaign contributions held in a federally registered account.

The Secretary of State's Office reiterates that only $11,000 can be transferred by Pearce to his campaign for governor, based on a New Mexico law that limits campaign contributions to $5,500 for the primary and general election cycles.

Attorneys for Pearce say he followed federal limits on individual contributions that are more stringent than state restrictions.

Agency spokesman Joey Keefe says Pearce has failed to prove allegations that his campaign has been irreparably harmed.

Oil And Gas Leases Net $6.7M For New MexicoAssociated Press

New Mexico's latest monthly oil and gas lease sale has netted $6.7 million for the State Land Office.

The agency says that brings earnings for the first quarter of this fiscal year to nearly $50 million. That's more than six times the amount collected during the same period last year.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the agency is on track for a top-performing year and that means more money flowing into education.

Nearly all of the revenues collected by the State Land Office are from oil and gas development on state trust lands, and most of that goes to public schools. The office collected $546 million during the last fiscal year.

For the September lease sale, the agency offered 10 tracts covering 1,560 acres in Eddy and Lea counties.

New Mexico Woman Sentenced In VA Fraud CaseAssociated Press

A Las Cruces woman has been sentenced to four months in prison for her conviction on theft of government property and forgery charges stemming from a scheme to defraud the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Federal prosecutors said 55-year-old Donah Davison will also be required to pay more than $147,000 in restitution as part of the sentence handed down Tuesday.

Davison was charged in November in a multi-count indictment. Most of the counts stemmed from allegations that she deposited surviving-spouse benefit checks to which she wasn't entitled.

Prosecutors say Davison admitted that when her mother died in 1997, she failed to inform the VA and continued to collect and deposit the checks into her own bank account after signing her mother's signature on the back of the checks.

Giant Antennas In New Mexico Search For Cosmic DiscoveriesAssociated Press

Astronomers are using an array of giant dish antennas in New Mexico for a yearslong project aimed at producing the sharpest radio view ever made of a wide swath of the sky as they search for new cosmic discoveries.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory announced the project this week, saying the Very Large Array on the San Augustin Plains west of Socorro will make three scans of the sky visible from its latitude. That means about 80 percent of the sky will be scanned.

The director of the observatory, Tony Beasley, says the results will be a valuable tool for a range of fields in astrophysics.

The survey is expected to turn up supernovae, gamma ray bursts and other things that are typically obstructed from visible-light telescopes.

Enrollment Continues To Fall At University Of New MexicoAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The University of New Mexico's student population has dropped for the fifth straight year.

The Albuquerque Journal reports New Mexico's largest university is reporting 26,278 total students for the fall 2017 semester. That's 782 fewer than fall 2016.

The university has declined 2.9 percent in population from 2016 and 9.3 percent since its 2012 peak.

The university's chief enrollment official cited multiple factors, including the shrinking value of the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship, which as many as one-third of its undergraduates use to help cover tuition costs.

New Mexico State University, the state's second-largest school, has had a more dramatic slide, dropping 22 percent since its peak in 2010. That includes a 2.8 percent decline from 2016 to 2017, much of it in continuing undergraduates.

Ex-Electrical Engineer At Los Alamos Gets Prison In Tax CaseAssociated Press

A former electrical engineer who worked at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory for almost 30 years has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for filing false tax returns.

Prosecutors say 62-year-old Darryl Gutierrez of Santa Fe also was ordered Tuesday to pay more than $174,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

Gutierrez was indicted in November 2015 on one count of obstructing and impeding the due administration of the internal revenue laws and 10 counts of making and subscribing false tax returns.

A jury convicted him on all 11 counts in March 2017.

Prosecutors say that between November 2010 and January 2011, Gutierrez filed 10 false federal income tax returns for tax years 2000 to 2009 seeking a refund when he owed the IRS about $125,000.

Santa Fe Voters Reject Tax Increase For Behavioral HealthSanta Fe New Mexican

Voters in New Mexico’s capital city overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would have increased the gross receipts tax to provide more funding for mental health services and public safety.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports only about 8 percent of registered voters turned out for the special election. About 70 percent of those who cast ballots were against a one sixteenth of one percent increase. It would have brought in about $2.2 million annually.

Part of the funds would have gone to a new behavioral health center the county plans to open to offer more detox and addiction treatment services. County commissioners already voted this year to pass a one-eighth-cent increase that will take effective on Jan. 1 and will bring in about $4.6 million annually for behavioral health and public safety.

That effort drew widespread support. Santa Fe County and the city already have some of the highest gross receipts tax rates in the state. 

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