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May 22, 2015

Justice Department Eyes Voting Reforms For American Indians - Santa Fe New Mexican/The Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking legislation that would require state and local election officials to work with American Indian tribes to locate at least one polling place on or near each tribe’s land.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the changes are needed because “significant and unnecessary barriers” exist for American Indians and Alaska Natives who want to cast ballots. American Indians sometimes have to travel great distances to vote, face language barriers and, in places like Alaska, do not have the same amount of time to vote as others.

May 21, 2015

Report ranks New Mexico’s rural roads among the worstSanta Fe New Mexican

One project would replace aging bridges and crumbling pavement near Galisteo. Another would straighten a hazardous curve on a road to Ruidoso. A third would widen U.S. 82 through Eddy and Lea counties, where traffic fatalities have doubled in the last four years, to accommodate an influx of heavy trucks in the oil patch.

The list of repairs grows even as a new report ranks New Mexico’s paved, rural roads as tied for ninth-worst in the 50 states.

Just as significant, the report by the nonprofit research group TRIP, for The Road Information Program, says those roads serve more than half of New Mexico’s 2 million residents.

The report — by a nonprofit funded by insurance companies, labor unions, equipment manufacturers and highway engineering businesses — was released as the U.S. House of Representatives approved a two-month extension of transportation funding. But Congress again avoided the question of how to pay for highways and transit over the long haul, an issue critical to New Mexico because 85 percent of its road construction projects are funded by U.S. taxpayers.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund relies on revenue from an 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax — an amount that hasn’t increased since 1993. The fund isn’t enough to cover transportation spending, but most lawmakers are reluctant to raise the tax. Since 2008, Congress has authorized 33 extensions to continue transportation funding without finding a longer-term solution. The extension passed by the House on Tuesday would expire July 31, when many lawmakers say they expect to go through the same exercise again.

May 15, 2015

Relaxed public access policy starts today in Valles Caldera -- Albuquerque Journal

The sunrise over Valles Caldera National Preserve this morning brings the dawn of a new era.

Starting today, visitors will be able to explore more of the 89,000-acre preserve hidden high in the Jemez Mountains – considered some of northern New Mexico’s most serene, scenic and treasured terrain – and at a cheaper price. The new expanded access policy and revised fee structure coincides with the opening of the summer season and the start of a transition period for management of the preserve, from a presidentially appointed board of trustees to the National Park Service. -- 5/15/2015


State's revenue outlook stable despite oil, gas price dropLas Cruces Sun News

State financial analysts say an expected boost in personal and corporate taxes is helping to offset weak oil and natural gas prices, providing for a more stable revenue outlook for New Mexico.

According to the State of New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, the latest estimates show that revenue for the current fiscal year is expected to increase by $136 million to $6.25 billion as compared with a February forecast.

"Oil and gas revenues have stayed steady, but the real strength is the income taxes," said Abraham Sanogo, a Legislative Finance Committee economist. - - 5/14/15


Governor rules out special session -- Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Susana Martinez said Thursday that she has “no intention” of calling legislators back to the Roundhouse for a special session, dealing a blow to lawmakers’ hopes of reviving and passing a massive capital improvements bill. -- 5/14/2015


Figures show New Mexico economic outlook stabilizingAlbuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State financial analysts say an expected boost in personal and corporate taxes is helping to offset weak oil and natural gas prices, providing for a more stable revenue outlook for New Mexico.

The latest estimates show that revenue for the current fiscal year is expected to increase by $136 million to $6.25 billion as compared with a February forecast.

“Oil and gas revenues have stayed steady, but the real strength is the income taxes,” said Abraham Sanogo, a Legislative Finance Committee economist.

Analysts are trying to figure out what’s driving the uptick in those taxes but say it’s generally attributable to the improving economy.

They caution that the estimated increase in revenues doesn’t equate to new money that could be available to spend in fiscal 2017 because hard numbers won’t be available until after July 1, the start of fiscal year 2016. – 5/13/2015

May 11, 2015

Rio Grande to flow in southern New Mexico starting Monday – KOB/Associated Press

Elephant Butte, NM -- Federal officials say the Rio Grande will start flowing through southern New Mexico on Monday as releases from two reservoirs begin, marking the start of the irrigation season.

The Bureau of Reclamation says an initial release of water from Caballo Reservoir will begin at 6 a.m. Monday and be increased on May 26.

Releases from Elephant Butte Reservoir also begin Monday morning, and the bureau says that means what is now a dry river between the two reservoirs will be flooded.           

Rio Grande Project water is used to irrigate lands in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District in southern New Mexico and in the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 in west Texas and Mexico.     

Project water is also used for municipal and industrial purposes by El Paso, Texas. -- 5/8/2015

May 7, 2015

GAO: Waste of natural gas costs taxpayers millions -- Santa Fe New Mexican

Significant amounts of natural gas on federal lands are being wasted, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year and adding to harmful greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office also said the Bureau of Land Management failed to conduct production inspections for hundreds of high-priority oil and gas wells — roughly 1 out of 5 — to ensure full payment of royalties to the U.S.


PRC says its hands may be tied on ride sharing -- Albuquerque Journal

Uber wants state regulators to backtrack on recent rules governing ride-sharing services in New Mexico —  and Lyft says it will suspend operations – but the commissioners who approved the rules say state law may tie their hands.

The Public Regulation Commission voted 4-1 for reforms to the Motor Carrier Act on April 21 to allow ride-sharing companies to operate as “specialized passenger services” with more relaxed regulations than what applies to taxi companies.

On Monday, Uber’s local subsidiary, Hinter-NM, filed a motion asking the PRC for a rehearing to roll back some of those amendments and to alter others without necessarily repealing them. Hinter said that without changes, the reforms are “fundamentally flawed.” It called the approval process “arbitrary, capricious, and violative of due process” because there was insufficient opportunity for parties to comment prior to PRC action.

Lyft, meanwhile, said it will “pause” operations starting May 14 because the regulations “make it exceedingly difficult” to continue working here.


N.S.A. Phone Data Collection Is Illegal, Appeals Court Rules -- New York Times

A federal appeals court in New York on Thursday ruled that the once-secret National Security Agency program that is systematically collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk is illegal. The decision comes as a fight in Congress is intensifying over whether to end and replace the program, or to extend it without changes.

In a 97-page ruling, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a provision of the USA Patriot Act known as Section 215 cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic calling records.

May 4, 2015

State approves two solar arrays in southern NMLas Cruces Sun News

Southern New Mexico is moving closer to being a renewable-energy powerhouse.

In late April, Aubrey Dunn, the NM state's land commissioner, announced that NextEra Energy Resources, a Florida-based company heavily invested in renewable energy, has been awarded a bid to develop solar power array projects on state trust lands in Doña Ana and Otero counties.

The two projects include a 50-megawatt solar array located on 640 acres of state trust land in Doña Ana County, some 6.4 miles west of Santa Teresa. A second array, expected to be the largest in the state, will generate 150 megawatts of electricity on 2,770 acres in Otero County. The Otero County solar power array is expected to be three times larger than the largest existing solar array at Macho Springs in Luna County, also located on state trust land. - - 5/4/15

May 1, 2015

Feds reach $73 million settlement with New Mexico over radiation leakLas Cruces Sun News

The Energy Department will funnel more than $73 million toward road and water projects around New Mexico as part of a settlement over a radiation leak that forced the indefinite closure of a troubled nuclear waste dump.

The agreement, announced by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn, follows months of tense and slow negotiations.

The settlement is the largest ever reached between a state and the department, Flynn said, noting that the agency needed to be held accountable for putting people at risk. - - 5/1/15


President Obama Announces New Library Initiatives -- Library Journal

At a visit to Washington, DC’s Anacostia Neighborhood Library on April 30, President Barack Obama announced two new initiatives that promise to rally America’s libraries, publishers, and nonprofit organizations to strengthen learning opportunities for all children, particularly in low-income communities. The plan, dubbed the ConnectED Library Challenge, will engage civic leaders, libraries, and schools to work together to ensure that all school students receive public library cards. Commitments from 30 library systems are already in place.

As part of an effort to provide broad access to digital content, the Open eBooks Initiative has secured a promise from the “Big Five” publishers and a number of independent presses to provide $250 million in free ebooks to low-income students. Some 10,000 popular titles will be made available over the next three years, and libraries have joined forces with nonprofits to create an app to deliver the content, as well as material from the public domain.

The new programs are an outgrowth of the president’s original ConnectED initiative, announced two years ago with the goal of transforming teaching and learning through digital connectivity and content. The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is investing $5 million in support of the ereader app, as well as tools and services to help the public more easily access ebooks and other digital content.