March 10 First News: Above-Average Snowpack Threatened By Early Melting

Mar 10, 2016

The snowpack is melting sooner than usual, but remains just above normal in many mountain areas of the state. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the early snow melt could impact spring and summer river flows. A water supply forecast for March from the Natural Resources Conservation Service says the western New Mexico snowpack was hit hardest. Data shows a 40-percent loss of mountain snow that had been above average in many areas last month’s dry weather, including several days with record-breaking heat. National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Shoemake says the snow is melting like it does in May and is about 45 days ahead of schedule for runoff. Heavy rains this year have helped keep reservoirs at healthier levels than in the last two years.

Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed legislation that would have allowed for unclaimed prize money to be transferred to New Mexico's lottery tuition fund. Lawmakers failed to address the solvency of the lottery scholarship program during the recent 30-day session. But they did approve the unclaimed prizes measure, saying it had the potential to boost the fund by more than $2 million.  That's not enough to close the funding gap, though. In her veto message, the governor said she supported the spirit of the legislation but that signing it would result in less money for lottery officials to invest in new games and offer higher payouts that could increase revenue for the scholarships.  The legislature’s analysis of that claim disputed its accuracy. As in other states, New Mexico lottery revenues haven't kept up with tuition increases and demand for financial aid.

The governor has signed a bill that would require some state residents with severe mental illness to receive court-ordered outpatient treatment. Martinez signed the bill Wednesday after advocates for years have tried to get lawmakers to pass a similar, but controversial measure. New Mexico was one of only five states that didn't have a version of a Kendra's Law — a bill named after Kendra Webdale. She was a 32-year-old woman who was pushed in front of an oncoming New York subway train in 1999 by a man battling untreated schizophrenia. The new law here orders some patients to participate in assisted outpatient treatment if the court finds that the patients are a danger to themselves and others.

And some building and road projects will not go forward, now that Governor Martinez has rejected more than 150 capital outlay projects which she called "pork." The Republican governor issued the line-item vetoes Wednesday.  Then she signed a number of bills that authorized funding for hundreds of projects around the state. In her executive message, Martinez said she struck down the items because they didn't create jobs or develop the state. Among the rejected projects was an $8 million request for a new health education building at the University of New Mexico's Rio Rancho campus.

Santa Fe’s mayor still wants to cut the budget and hike fees and collections to tackle the $15 to $18-million deficit, but he also wants to enact other measures he detailed to city councilors last night. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports today that Mayor Javier Gonzales’s plan would delete one gross-receipts tax that was passed to pay off bonds and improve the water system.  Then the city would enact a new gross receipts tax – same rate of 8.3125-percent – but the money would go directly to the general fund that pays a majority of city expenses.  The New Mexican says the tax is projected to generate almost $8-million. 

Another switch in the mayor’s cost-cutting plans previously announced: elimination of the Verde Fund.  That fund would’ve been created to take $50-million in cash reserves in the water division, and invest it with the State Investment Council to use for fighting poverty and climate change in Santa Fe.  You can read more on this story in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican. State regulators are ordering a Midland, Texas-based company to clean a spill of oil and water on state trust lands in Lea County in southeast NM at a waste-water injection site serving the area's oil and natural gas industry.

The State Land Office on Wednesday accused Texas-based Siana Operating Company of trespassing under an expired lease of state trust lands in southeastern New Mexicoand delivered a cease and desist order. The agency says Siana's lease expired in December 2011 for the skim facility that separates oil from excess water delivered from oil and gas drilling operations. A Siana representative says the is considering its response. The State Land Office has given Siana until march 18 to obtain an entry permit to remediate damage.

A tearful goodbye for New Mexico Health Secretary Retta Ward in Santa Fe yesterday.  Colleagues friends and family attended a memorial for the 62 year old executive who had run the state’s largest agency for two years.  She was found unresponsive in her car on the side of hiway 599 in Santa Fe last week.  Medical examiners have not revealed the exact cause of her death, but Santa Fe sheriffs said it appeared to be a medical episode.

In National News:

A second round of rain is hitting an already inundated north Louisiana, where flooding in some places was up to the rooftops and forced evacuations. Three people drowned in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.  Another round of rain began early this morning, and is forecast to end by tomorrow afternoon. Several Louisiana parishes have declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard was sent in to help.

The federal panel that sets sentencing policy is weighing changes to a program that permits an early prison release for certain elderly and sick inmates. The US Sentencing Commission held a hearing last month about the Bureau of Prisons' compassionate release program, and is expected to take up the issue again next week. The issue is important since federal prison officials have said inmates 50 and older are their fastest-growing demographic. Despite studies showing that older prisoners are far less likely to re-offend after release, prison officials have struggled to define who should be considered.