KUNM

Study Says NM Not Prepared For Another Recession, Defense Says Ex-Senator's Commission Was Legal

Oct 31, 2017

Study Finds New Mexico Not Prepared For Another RecessionThe Associated Press

A study says that New Mexico is not prepared to withstand another recession, should it come, given its depleted financial reserves.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports a "stress test" by Moody's Analytics that looked at New Mexico's current state of finances was published earlier this month.

According to the analysis, the state needs to have 10 percent of its budget in reserve in order to make through a moderate recession without resorting to many significant tax hikes or cutting back services.

The study also determined the state would need 17.1 percent in reserves to stay afloat in a severe recession.

State officials say New Mexico is set to finish 2017 with 5.5 percent of its budget in reserves and have 3.4 percent by the end of June 2018.

Defense Says Ex-Senator's $50,000 Commission Was LegalThe Associated Press

A former New Mexico state senator went on trial Tuesday on accusations he used his elected office to profit from the sale of a state-owned building, in a high-stakes corruption trial that has spurred calls for government ethics reforms.

State prosecutors outlined allegations that ex-Sen. Phil Griego hid his underlying financial motives for as long as two years as he relentlessly pushed forward the 2014 sale of a government building through a state-agency review, approval by the Legislature and a public buildings commission.

Griego has said he broke no laws while earning a $50,000 commission from owners of the upscale Inn of the Five Graces that bought the building located a block from the state Capitol.

The lead defense attorney for the 69-year-old former politician and real estate broker said that Griego has been unfairly judged in the court of public opinion. Attorney Thomas Clark said testimony in coming days would demonstrate the property sale was propelled by the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources with the knowledge of officials across upper echelons of state government — and not a matter of deception by Griego.

A Democrat who served nearly two decades in the Legislature, Griego resigned from the Senate in March 2015 at the close of a Senate ethics committee investigation.

Prosecutors under Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas are pursuing eight criminal counts against Griego, including fraud, bribery and perjury charges.

Prosecutors say Griego helped spread misinformation in the Legislature that maintenance costs outweighed rental income on the state building in question, when lease documents assigned the cost of maintenance to those renting the property.

New Mexico County Buries Bodies Of 19 Unknown PeopleThe Associated Press

A New Mexico county located on the U.S.-Mexico border has buried the bodies of more than a dozen unnamed people.

KVIA-TV in El Paso, Texas reports the burials took place at a special ceremony last week after no family came to claim the bodies with Dona Ana County.

No family members spoke to honor the memory of any of the 19 bodies. However, the event attracted dozens who gathered to silently mourn the unknown.

Officials say the county plans to set up a marker at the burial spot to identify the people laid to rest in case family members come forward.

Route 66 Hotel Project Aims For December OpeningThe Associated Press

Developers of an $18 million project along historic Route 66 say they are aiming for a December opening of the revamped property.

The face-lift of the storied El Vado motor lodge in Albuquerque includes a boutique hotel, a new mixed-use building next door and an events center.

The lobby of the hotel will have a taproom that will feature local brews, and General Manager Carrie Confair is lining up different businesses to operate food trucks at the site.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that plans to redevelop El Vado have been in the works for years.

The original motel opened in 1937. It's among the sites highlighted by the National Park Service as a historically significant example of the automobile tourism that sprouted up along Route 66.

Farmington's Downtown Revamp Plan Drawing Mixed ResponsesThe Associated Press

A plan to revamp Farmington's downtown is drawing a mixture of excitement and skepticism from business owners.

The Daily Times of Farmington reports the revitalization plan dubbed Complete Streets involves a $3.4 million upgrade for the downtown corridor in the northwestern New Mexico city.

City Manager Rob Mayes says the plan also involves major updates of the water and sewer systems and storm management.

John McNeill, a member of the Metropolitan Redevelopment Area board, said the changes aim to slow vehicle traffic down and create space for pedestrian traffic.

Rod Hubble, who owns Rod Hubble Fine Art, says he's excited about the prospect of Farmington's downtown becoming a hot spot again. But Allstar T-Shirts and Trophies owner Valerie Jordan says she worries about the change in traffic and its effects on businesses.

Heinrich And Udall Seek Protection For Mueller – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico’s two Democratic senators want Congress to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the wake of indictments of former campaign officials for President Donald Trump.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Sen. Martin Heinrich, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. Tom Udall said Congress needs to protect the investigation into collusion between Russians and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Some have raised concerns that Trump might fire Mueller before the Special Counsel completes the investigation.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former aide Rick Gates pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-count indictment alleging money laundering, conspiracy and other offenses and as another former aide was revealed to be cooperating with authorities after entering a guilty plea for lying to the FBI. 

Attorneys Prepare For Opening Of New Mexico Corruption TrialAssociated Press

Attorneys are preparing for opening arguments in a corruption trial against a former New Mexico state senator accused of using his elected position to profit from the sale of a state-owned building.

Opening arguments were scheduled for Tuesday morning in the trial of ex-Sen. Phil Griego on charges that include bribery, fraud, perjury, unlawful interest in a public contract and violation of ethical principles of service. A jury was selected Monday.

The 69-year-old former Santa Fe city councilman denies wrongdoing. Prosecutors at the state attorney general's office say Griego used his former position as a lawmaker to arrange a $50,000 commission on the sale of a downtown building in Santa Fe.

The attorney general's office plans to call on legislative staff and a former Cabinet secretary as initial witnesses.

New Mexico County Buries Bodies Of 19 Unknown PeopleAssociated Press

A New Mexico county located on the U.S.-Mexico border has buried the bodies of more than a dozen unnamed people.

KVIA-TV in El Paso, Texas reports the burials took place at a special ceremony last week after no family came to claim the bodies with Doña Ana County.

No family members spoke to honor the memory of any of the 19 bodies. However, the event attracted dozens who gathered to silently mourn the unknown.

Officials say the county plans to set up a marker at the burial spot to identify the people laid to rest in case family members come forward.

Co-Founder Of Burque Media Accused In Fatal ShootingAlbuquerque Journal

A man who with two others founded an alternative media outlet three years ago has been arrested, accused of shooting and killing a man Saturday night.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Steve Kramer is in the Metropolitan Detention Center awaiting a hearing after he allegedly shot and killed Vincent Gutierrez. They were both at the offices of a former mayoral candidate in Albuquerque.

Kramer along with Andy Christophersen and Dinah Vargas founded Burque Media following a series of protests against police brutality. They grew to focus on advocacy for homeless people.

Christophersen said Kramer began acting oddly last year, disappearing and then telling people he was living on the streets and using drugs. He showed up at the offices Saturday night when Vargas was there and was acting strangely, according to the Journal.

New Mexico AG, Insurance Firm Reach $18.5M SettlementAssociated Press

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office has reached an $18.5 million settlement agreement with the state's largest health insurance provider over unpaid premium taxes.

Attorney General Hector Balderas on Monday announced the settlement with the for-profit insurance arm of Presbyterian Healthcare Services concerning unpaid insurance premium taxes dating back to 2003-2004.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services CEO Dale Maxwell says fraud allegations against the company were dropped prior to payment of the settlement. He says the payment will not interfere with the company's ability to provide health care coverage.

Prosecutors had accused insurance subsidiary Presbyterian Health Plan of using an illegal accounting procedure to avoid taxes and surcharges.

The settlement represents a larger amount than the $14.3 million in unpaid premium taxes described in a recent state-commissioned audit.

New Mexico Utility Seeks More Electricity OptionsAssociated Press

New Mexico's largest electric provider is putting out a request for proposals to provide power in the event that the coal-fired power plant it operates in the northwestern corner of the state were to shut down after 2022.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico plans to shutter two units at the San Juan Generating Station before the end of the year and has suggested that it will stop using coal as fuel by 2031.

The utility announced the request for proposals late last week, saying it's looking for a combination of sources that can ensure the reliability of the system. It pegged the amount at 456 megawatts.

The utility says it's also encouraging renewable and battery-storage options.

Interested parties will have until Nov. 30 to announce their intention to bid. Proposals will be due in January.

Once Bustling New Mexico Ski Resort Now A Ghost TownAssociated Press

A once bustling ski resort in northern New Mexico is now a ghost town.

KOB-TV in Albuquerque reports since Ski Rio in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains closed in 2000, the mountain hamlet mostly has been empty with few tourists.

In some cases, dishes, pots, pans and appliances remain at now-closed restaurants. The mountain that once hosted tourists has been deserted for nearly 20 years.

Joe Musich, the caretaker of the mountain, says improvements are in the works so visitors can experience the mountain, like the Casita Village that offers modern accommodations. But it's not clear if there are any bigger efforts to reopen the resort close to Amalia, New Mexico.

Farmington's Downtown Revamp Plan Drawing Mixed ResponsesFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

A plan to revamp Farmington's downtown is drawing a mixture of excitement and skepticism from business owners.

The Daily Times of Farmington reports the revitalization plan dubbed Complete Streets involves a $3.4 million upgrade for the downtown corridor in the northwestern New Mexico city.

City Manager Rob Mayes says the plan also involves major updates of the water and sewer systems and storm management.

John McNeill, a member of the Metropolitan Redevelopment Area board, said the changes aim to slow vehicle traffic down and create space for pedestrian traffic.

Rod Hubble, who owns Rod Hubble Fine Art, says he's excited about the prospect of Farmington's downtown becoming a hot spot again. But Allstar T-Shirts and Trophies owner Valerie Jordan says she worries about the change in traffic and its effects on businesses.

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