Tuesday News Roundup: New Mexico Senate Approves $6B Budget

Feb 18, 2014

 New Mexico Senate Approves $6B Budget- The Associated Press

The Senate has unanimously approved a proposed $6.2 billion budget that would provide 3 percent pay raises next year for government workers and educators.

The budget is the main assignment for lawmakers in the 30-day session, which ends on Thursday.

The bill cleared the Senate on Tuesday and heads to the House.

The measure provides for a $293 million or 5 percent increase in spending on education and government programs next year.

Democrats and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez have been at odds over spending on the governor's education initiatives, including merit pay.

The Senate-passed budget adds extra money for the governor's school proposals and those provisions could face objections in the House.

New Mexico House OKs Navajo Gambling CompactThe Associated Press

A tribal-state gambling compact allowing the Navajo Nation to open three additional casinos is heading to the Senate but time is running out in the legislative session.

The House approved the proposal Tuesday on a 36-30 vote. Navajo officials are pushing for a Senate vote before the Legislature adjourns Thursday.

The Navajos operate two Las Vegas-style casinos in New Mexico under a compact expiring next year and a third casino offers low-stakes gambling not subject to state regulation.

The proposed compact would permit the Navajos to phase in three new casinos over 15 years.

The compact is opposed by some other pueblos and tribes, which worry their casinos will be hurt by a gambling industry expansion.

The compact must be approved by the Legislature and the Interior Department to take effect.


NM Senate Confirms Environment Secretary  - The Associated Press

UPDATE: The Senate has approved Gov. Susana Martinez's choice to run the New Mexico Environment Department despite the objections of several conservation groups.

Lawmakers voted 30-11 Tuesday to confirm the nomination of Ryan Flynn as cabinet secretary of the agency.

The governor appointed Flynn to the post last year after a retirement forced her to reshuffle leadership in two agencies. Flynn had previously served as the agency's general counsel for two years.

Flynn's confirmation followed a two-hour hearing in which environmentalists criticized him and the department over the development of regulations aimed at groundwater and copper mining.

Critics contend the department caved to industry interests in crafting the rules, which they say violate state law prohibiting water contamination above certain standards.

Flynn disputed the allegations and said his responsibility is to protect New Mexico's air, water and landscapes.


Lawmakers are to consider Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's top environmental manager, who's under fire for rules that environmentalists say will allow groundwater pollution by copper mines.

The Senate Rules Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing Tuesday for Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn, who was appointed last year by the governor.

The committee decides whether to send a nomination to the Senate for a confirmation vote.

If the 42-member Senate rejects Flynn's nomination, he'll be forced out of his cabinet-level job.

Democratic Attorney General Gary King and environmentalists have gone to court to overturn the copper-mining regulations adopted last year by the Water Quality Control Commission.

Critics say the rules violate state law prohibiting water contamination above certain standards. The department contends the rules are stringent and protect the environment.

New Mexico House OKs Cost-Sharing Funding For Amtrak Route - The Associated Press 

A bill approved by the New Mexico House would use oil and gas revenue to pay the state's share of costs to keep Amtrak's Southwest Chief on its current route.

The House's vote Monday sends the bill to the Senate where its fate is uncertain.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the bill authorizes the issuance of bonds to raise up to $40 million between 2016 and 2025.

That's intended to cover New Mexico's portion of a proposed agreement with Colorado and Kansas to pay for track work to keep the Southwest Chief on its present route.

Amtrak has warned that the route might change if the passenger train operator can't reach a new deal with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the track involved.