UNM Asks WisePies To Give Up Arena Name, Gov. Martinez Will Add Tax Reform To Special Session

Apr 27, 2017

UNM Asks WisePies To Give Up Naming Rights To ArenaThe Associated Press

The University of New Mexico has asked WisePies Pizza & Salad to give up the naming rights to the arena of the school's men's and women's basketball teams.

The school said Thursday it recently asked the pizza chain to abandon its naming rights of The Pit pending a new agreement with another company.

School officials say a new agreement will allow for multiple facilities to be named under one umbrella.

WisePies owner Steve Chavez says the company was happy to step aside since it knew how much the move would help the university. He says WisePies enjoyed its partnership with the school, and expects it to continue in a different capacity.

The Pit was renamed WisePies Arena in December 2014, drawing criticism from fans.

Martinez Says She Will Add Tax Reform To A Special SessionThe Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez says she will add comprehensive tax reform to a yet-to-be-announced special session aimed at solving the state's budget crisis.

The Republican governor made the announcement Thursday at the 14th Annual New Mexico Tax Research Institute Policy Conference.

Martinez is demanding lawmakers support a more ambitious tax-code overhaul designed to improve the state's business climate by eliminating hundreds of tax breaks, including long-standing exemptions for nonprofit organizations.

She says reforms will help avoid adverse impacts of the boom-bust oil and gas industry.

Similar reforms, which stalled in the Democratic-controlled Legislature this year, would lower standard tax rates on sales and services.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth says reforms have to broaden the tax base and lower rates, not redistribute taxes from one group to another.

New Mexico Delves Into Soda Tax FightThe Associated Press

It's being pitched as an educational lifeline for impoverished preschool-aged children and condemned as the latest example of local government overreach sweeping progressive cities from coast to coast.

Voters in New Mexico's capital city have until Tuesday to decide whether to levy a new 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary soda and other sweetened beverages.

The citywide tax would provide Santa Fe an estimated $7.5 million in its first year to expand early childhood education to roughly 1,000 children whose families cannot afford quality prekindergarten and don't qualify for state programs.

If approved, the proposal would add Santa Fe to the flurry of U.S. cities that have adopted soda taxes since late 2014. Opponents question whether the tax can provide a sustainable source of revenue if it truly discourages consumption of sugary drinks.

APS: Plan Being Developed To Save Middle School SportsThe Associated Press

Middle school students still will be able to compete in basketball, volleyball and track and field under a plan being developed by Albuquerque Public Schools.

APS spokeswoman Johanna King said Wednesday that the district is working with principals, coaches and community partners on the plan that would keep competitive sports in middle schools for another year.

She said middle schools also will still offer physical education, intramurals and programs that are funded by grants such as flag football, lunchtime basketball, archery, tennis and soccer.

APS officials had announced April 13 that it had decided to drop its middle school athletics program to help address massive budget cuts and save up to $750,000 each year.

Parents reacted with dismay to 3,400 students in Albuquerque Public Schools losing a traditional training ground for high school athletics.

Cutting basketball, volleyball and track and field teams in the district's 28 middle schools would leave families to find private leagues for children in grades 6, 7 and 8.

"This is a win for both kids and parents, who made their voices heard over the last week," New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said in a statement.

King said the district continues to look for ways to address a budget shortfall that is projected to be as much as $26 million next school year.

She said it could mean finding additional revenue sources including possibly charging admission for middle school competitions, looking for event sponsors, and working with community partners and the APS Education Foundation, a non-profit organization established for promoting private support of the district and its students.

"Despite our budgetary predicament, we really want to avoid cuts that directly impact the classroom and we realize that engagement in extracurricular activities including sports can contribute to the academic success of our students," APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy said.

New Mexico Attorney General Eyes Cattle Industry InquiryThe Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has launched an investigation into the competitive practices in the cattle industry.

Balderas said this week that he is starting the wide-ranging probe after growing concerned historic family-owned farms and ranches may face harmful practices by large-scale, corporate farming operations.

He says his office will review current federal regulatory schemes and use New Mexico law to investigate giant out-of-state corporations.

Balderas unveiled his plans at an event alongside ranchers and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association in Las Cruces and Albuquerque.

He said his office has recently become aware of various practices by "four mega meat-packing corporations that collectively process approximately 80 percent of all the beef slaughtered in the U.S."

Trump Order Could Scuttle New Mexico Land SwapThe Associated Press

President Donald's Trumps executive order to review the designation of national monuments on federal lands could scuttle an unapproved land swap with the state of New Mexico designed to generate more local income for education, the state's land commissioner said Wednesday.

New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said Trump's order may hinder negotiations to transfer 65 square miles (165 square kilometers) of state land holdings into the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Northern New Mexico. In exchange, New Mexico would receive scattered BLM property elsewhere that can generate lease revenue for the state.

The possible trade also involves state holdings in the BLM's Sabinoso Wilderness Area in northeastern New Mexico.

Dunn says the land swaps could expand recreational opportunities, while generating additional annual state revenues from grazing to go toward education.

"We're talking $50,000 — that could be a teaching position, that could be instructional materials," Dunn said. Additional income might come from other commercial development of natural resources, he said.

BLM Spokeswoman Donna Hummel confirmed the agency has been in discussions with the State Land Office on the land transfer described by Dunn, without yet initiating an agreement that would go through a public approval process.

Trump directed his interior secretary to review the designation of dozens of national monuments on federal lands, describing "a massive federal land grab" by previous administrations. The order covers several dozen monuments designated since 1996.

President Barack Obama designated the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument on the outskirts of Taos by proclamation in 2013.

Dunn said he fears the land exchange could be delayed beyond the end of his four-year term at the end of 2018, when any successor could reject the plan. Dunn has yet to declare whether he will run for re-election as land commissioner.

Unions Question Need To Furlough New Mexico State Workers – The Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

Unions representing New Mexico state employees are speaking out against Gov. Susana Martinez's plan to save money by furloughing government workers.

State Personnel Director Justin Najaka sent letters to union leaders this week letters indicating Martinez is moving forward with the furloughs. The notice comes after warnings from Martinez that New Mexico could run out of cash before the budget year ends in June, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

But union leaders are not convinced the state is as cash-strapped as Martinez has claimed.

They argue the furlough plan is a political stunt by the Republican governor who has been in an ongoing standoff with Democratic lawmakers over the budget.

While Martinez has spoken publicly in recent months about ordering government workers to take days off without pay, her administration has not yet released details about how many workers would be affected by the decision.

Democrats and unions claim the state has enough money to make payroll until July. They point to a report last week showing the state is generating more revenue than expected.

New Mexico's general fund is projected to close out the current fiscal year at $54 million, or 1 percent above expectations, according to the Legislative Finance Committee report.

Joseph Cueto, a spokesman for the state personnel office, said in an email Martinez does not want to furlough employees "but she has to leave everything on the table to solve our cash crisis."

PED Attacks Albuquerque School District's 'Mistake' Retweets – The Associated Press

Political retweets from the official Twitter account of Albuquerque Public Schools are coming under fire from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The recent retweets that have since been deleted invited residents to a campaign event for a Democratic mayoral candidate, urged residents to oppose the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch and called for the support of LGBTQ rights in North Carolina.

Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman Monica Armenta says the retweets likely came from her and were "an honest mistake." Armenta says she thought she was retweeting from her personal account and deleted them once she realized the error.

PED spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg says it was disappointing the district would use taxpayer dollars to spread political messages.

'Significant Late Season Winter Storm' To Sock New Mexico – The Associated Press

Spring officially began over a month ago but the National Weather Service says much of New Mexico can expect another strong dose of winter weather this weekend.

A special statement issued Wednesday by the Albuquerque's forecast office says a "significant late season winter storm" will hit northern and central New Mexico late Friday through early Sunday.

Forecasts say impacts of the system will include rain turning to snow Friday night and Saturday morning even in lower elevations, with significant snow accumulation expected in the northern mountains and across northeastern New Mexico.

Accumulating snow is expected along Interstate 25 in northern New Mexico and possibly along Interstate 40 in eastern New Mexico.

To cap it off, a late-season freeze is forecast Saturday night and Sunday morning at some lower-elevation locations.

Albuquerque Prosecutor: Fewer Criminal Cases To Go To Court – The Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Albuquerque area's chief prosecutor says his office is going to focus on the worst offenders and only try about half the criminal cases referred by law enforcement.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the approach announced Wednesday by District Attorney Raul Torrez will significantly reduce the number of criminal cases sent to Bernalillo County criminal courts.

Torrez says the office in recent years has tried to prosecute three-quarters of the cases referred by law enforcement and only got convictions in 44 percent.

Torrez says his office will try to prosecute the most dangerous offenders and try to put many other defendants into drug treatment or diversion programs.

According to Torrez, the office's poor conviction rate has allowed violent offenders to avoid lengthy prison sentences and commit additional crimes.

Prominent Powwow Set To Begin In Wake Of Pipeline Protests – The Associated Press

One of North America's most prominent powwows is set to begin in New Mexico.

The Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque comes in the wake of pipeline protests in North Dakota that became a historic display of Native American solidarity.

Last year's powwow attracted about 3,000 dancers from hundreds of tribes in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It routinely draws at least 80,000 visitors.

The event, which opens Thursday, is intended to be nonpolitical, but Larry Yazzie, its official announcer, said people will be reminded why they are coming together, and that the "water protectors" — those who joined the pipeline protests — will be acknowledged.

The Gathering of Nations will be held at Expo New Mexico after the organization parted ways in a public spat with its longtime host — the University of New Mexico and its basketball arena.

The Gathering of Nations began in 1983 in a gym at present-day St. Pius X High School and moved to Expo New Mexico soon after. The event then relocated to the University of New Mexico.

Dan Mourning, general manager of Expo New Mexico, said officials have been working for a year to prepare for the revamped Gathering of Nations. Mourning expects attendees to embrace a new indoor Indian trading market and live entertainment at "Stage 49."

For the first time, a medical marijuana developer and dispensary will help sponsor the event. Representatives of Ultra Health will pass out pamphlets and brochures about medical marijuana and ways attendees can apply to the program.