State to take over Sunland Park finances; millions allegedly misspent, including money for hookers and campaign video

Sunland Park mayor Daniel Salinas left  KVIA-TV photo
 From Capitol Report New - New Mexico state auditor Hector Balderas says fraud is so severe in the border town of Sunland Park that the state should take over and run things for now and New Mexico’s secretary for the Department of Finance and Administration has suspended two Sunland Park employees, charging them with mismanagement of public funds. Late Monday afternoon (May 14), Balderas released a statement announcing that after looking over the results of a special audit, ”I strongly recommend that the Secretary of Finance and Administration take aggressive action to restore the confidence of the city’s citizens in its financial operations.” Moments later, DFA Secretary Tom Clifford announced the suspensions of the city’s finance director Helen Gonzalez and purchasing agent Neryza Rivera and said that “in accordance with New Mexico statute, DFA will assume the duties of those two officials.” In a brief interview with Balderas, the state auditor told Capitol Report New Mexico, “I believe they’ll [DFA] take these findings very seriously” and said he could not say for sure when a state agency had to take over running the fiscal responsibilities of a New Mexico municipality. “We are not here to make long-term policy decisions for the community,” Clifford said in a news release. “Our goal is to establish a properly functioning system of checks and balances to prevent future waste, abuse and mismanagement of public funds.” Balderas said he’s “deeply troubled by the severity of the audit’s findings,” which confirmed that former mayor pro tem Daniel Salinas spent more than $42,000 from the city’s Border Crossing Fund to “pay for prostitutes for Salinas and the City’s former Public Information Officer, Arturo Alba, during a trip to Mexico” as well as paying for a Salinas campaign video and paying a private investigator who made a videotape that Balderas’ office says was used to extort Salinas’ opponent in the town’s mayoral election in March. Read more

Ron Paul: 'Continue to cause havoc for Mitt Romney"

Ron Paul waves goodbye
NewsNM Swickard: Shuckins, New Mexico did not get to vote this year - again. The presidential race is already decided. From - AP - WASHINGTON (AP) — Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas and a favorite of tea partyers, effectively ended his presidential campaign Monday but urged his fervent supporters to continue working at the state party level to cause havoc for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. In an email to supporters, Paul urged his libertarian-leaning backers to remain involved in politics and champion his causes despite the apparent end of his presidential aspirations. Paul has found success in wrecking the selection process for delegates to the party's late-summer nominating convention in Tampa, Fla., and trumpeted that he has delayed Romney's expected nomination. Read more

Prosecutor accused of assaulting cop has resigned

Alisha Maestas
NewsNM Swickard: well, did she lunge at the police or not? From - District Attorney Kari Brandenburg tells KOB that assistant district attorney Alisha Maestas has resigned after her arrest Saturday on charges of assaulting a police officer. Maestas was head of the Domestic Violence Unit in Bernalillo County. Police say Maestas was the passenger in a vehicle that was stopped Saturday on suspicion of DWI. Officers say Maestas kept getting out of the car and interfering with their investigation. That’s when they arrested her, saying they were afraid she was going to lunge at them. Read more


Proposed Santa Fe city budget expands police, fire ranks

From the Santa Fe New - by Julie Ann Grimm  - The city of Santa Fe would hire more employees for public safety and street maintenance if city councilors approve a budget proposal that's headed for a final vote this month.  Police Chief Ray Rael told councilors he's confident the changes will enhance the department's effectiveness. Officers who currently work in the vehicle-forfeiture section and who oversee recruiting and training would be replaced with noncommissioned personnel, for example.  Police who live within 15 miles of the city limits or inside the city limits would also see an additional incentive, part of an effort to lay the groundwork for changes to a controversial policy that allows officers who live as far away as Rio Rancho to drive their city vehicles to and from work.  The idea that police would get a $350 incentive for living near Santa Fe is creating animosity among members of the firefighters union, said its president, Carl Schmitt. Schmitt told councilors that while police cars in Santa Fe driveways might help deter crime, off-duty paramedics are valuable in health emergencies at public events and in neighborhoods.  "It would be unrealistic to think that we wouldn't be upset about this," Schmitt said later. "Public safety as a whole deserves this incentive. It's beneficial to have us all in the community." read more

Changes to the “pit rule” debated, decision due by the end of the week

From Capitol Report New - For environmentalists, the “pit rule” that passed in 2008 is a common sense measure ensuring that oil and gas producers don’t damage groundwater and/or the land in New Mexico when they drill. But for the oil and gas industry, the rules are full of unnecessary regulations that drive up their costs and hobbles the state’s economy in the Four Corners and the Oil Patch. It’s Round 2 for the two sides and the Oil Conservation Division is hearing arguments all week long in Santa Fe. Lawyers for the industry and their witnesses say they’re not looking to completely overturn the pit rule but want “revisions and modifications to the pit rule to make the rules easier to understand,” attorney William F. Carr said in his opening statement Monday morning (May 14). This week’s hearings are scheduled to run through Friday (May 18). It takes a majority of the commission members to adopt any changes. The regulation is called the “pit rule” because it requires producers to deposit the waste and mud that’s extracted from the earth during drilling to be placed in a pit lined with protective coating. In some cases, operators also have to build enclosed tanks to hold produced water and chemicals. The rules also ban pits if they’re close to water wells and require oil and gas producers to haul the waste materials to a different site for disposal. Read more

Susana Martinez: What New Mexico's Governor Can Teach the GOP

Susana Martinez (Courtesy of J. Chehak)
The Daily BeastWhy the country’s first Latina governor might be Mitt’s best veep pickUnless you happen to live near vast stretches of sand, sagebrush, and adobe, chances are you have no idea who Susana Martinez is. That’s a pity, because she may be the boldest, savviest vice presidential pick Mitt Romney could make. Consider Romney’s vulnerabilities. He trails Barack Obama by as many as 56 percentage points among Latinos. Women prefer the president by roughly 20 points. Conservatives still distrust him, and populists in both parties suspect that he’s a vulture capitalist who likes to fire people. New Mexico’s Martinez, the first Latina governor in U.S. history, would solve each of these problems, or help as much as any running mate conceivably could. Within minutes of meeting me in Santa Fe one morning last month, she is speaking fluent Spanish, reminiscing about the .357 magnum she acquired at age 18, and describing her family’s mom-and-pop security business back in El Paso. A scout from Boston would have been very pleased. Still, it isn’t until a few hours later, when we arrive at Albuquerque’s Mission Avenue Elementary School, that Martinez demonstrates precisely how potent a sidekick she could be. By now, everyone knows that Romney tends to act like a malfunctioning automaton around real people: stiff, preprogrammed, out of sync. Martinez, who has stopped by to read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, is different. A sturdy 52-year-old with a bronze bob, black jeans, and a cropped black motorcycle jacket, she sits “criss-cross applesauce,” as she puts it, on the floor. She gently restores order every time the kids stand, squirm, squeal, or inch into the circle for a better view of the titular mouse and his hilarious milk mustache. And when she spots one glum little girl sitting off to the side by herself, she makes a point of getting her involved. Read More News New Mexico


Lujan-Steinborn race offers choices in style, substance

Steinborn left, Lujan right
NMPoliticsThe difference between Antonio Lujan and Jeff Steinborn, the Democratic candidates for State House District 35, lies in their life experience, personality and political style. Few primary races this year will offer as much of a contrast as will the Democratic race for State House District 35, whose new boundaries now include much of central and northeast Las Cruces. Politically and ideologically, incumbent Antonio Lujan and his challenger Jeff Steinborn probably agree on the vast majority of issues, if their legislative records and agendas are any indication. The difference really does lie in their life experience, personality and political style. Lujan’s quiet, laid-back demeanor belies a long record as a fierce advocate of social justice. He came of political age in Las Cruces’ Chicano empowerment movements of the early 1970s, and built his grassroots strengths as a director of social ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces. It’s true little of the legislation he’s sponsored has made it through a session (though the same can be said about many others), but he says most of his energy, primarily as a member of the Appropriations and Finance Committee, goes to keeping up on all legislation coming before the House. The 68-year old great-grandfather ran his first campaign when the 42-year old Steinborn was barely out of diapers, but he really hasn’t faced a stiff challenge for the seat he’s held since 2002. Read More News New Mexico


Wind Energy: the wheels are coming off the gravy train

Marita Noon
The wind energy industry has been having a hard time. The taxpayer funding that has kept it alive for the last twenty years is coming to an end, and those promoting the industry are panicking.
Perhaps this current wave started when one of wind energy’s most noted supporters, T. Boone Pickens, “Mr. Wind,” in an April 12 interview on MSNBC said, “I’m in the wind business…I lost my ass in the business.”
The industry’s fortunes didn’t get any better when on May 4, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) wrote an editorial titled, “Gouged by the wind,” in which they stated: “With natural gases not far from $2 per million BTU, the competitiveness of wind power is highly suspect.” Citing a study on renewable energy mandates, the WSJ says: “The states with mandates paid 31.9% more for electricity than states without them.”
Then, last week the Financial Times did a comprehensive story: “US Renewables boom could turn into a bust” in which they predict the “enthusiasm for renewables” … “could fizzle out.” The article says: “US industry is stalling and may be about to go into reverse. …Governments all over the world have been curbing support for renewable energy.”
Michael Liebreich of the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance says: “With a financially stressed electorate, it’s really hard to go to them and say: ‘Gas is cheap, but we’ve decided to build wind farms for no good reason that we can articulate.’” Christopher Blansett, who is a top analyst in the alternative-energy sector in the Best on the Street survey, says, “People want cheap energy. They don't necessarily want clean energy.”
It all boils down to a production tax credit (PTC) that is set to expire at the end 2012. Four attempts to get it extended have already been beaten back so far this year—and we are only in the fifth month. The Financial Times reports: “Time-limited subsidy programmes…face an uphill battle. The biggest to expire this year is the production tax credit for onshore wind power, the most important factor behind the fourfold expansion of US wind generation since 2006. Recent attempts in Congress to extend it have failed.”
According to the WSJ, “The industry is launching into a lobbying blitz.” The “2012 Strategy” from the American Wind Energy Association includes:
• “To maximize WindPAC’s influence, WindPAC will increase the number of fundraisers we hold for Members of Congress.”
• “Continue the Iowa caucus program to ensure the successful implanting of a pro-wind message into the Republican presidential primary campaign.”
• “Respond quickly to unfavorable articles by posting comments online, using the AWEA blog and twitter, and putting out press releases.”
• “Continue to advocate for long term extension of PTC and ITC option for offshore wind.”
• “AWEA requested a funding level of $144.2 million for FY 2012 for the Department of Energy (DOE) Wind Energy Program, an increase of $17.3 million above the President’s Congressional budget request.”
A wind turbine manufacturer quoted in the Financial Times article says, “If the PTC just disappears, then the industry will collapse.” Regarding United Technologies plans to sell its wind turbine business, chief financial officer Greg Hayes admitted: “We all make mistakes.” Read rest of column here: News New Mexico


Fracking Litigation Drives Up Insurance Costs

Reuters - From water worries to well blowouts, the inherent risks of oil and gas extraction are often played down by those in the business. But another group of profit-seekers has every reason to keep a close eye on dangers for drillers: their insurers. Underwriters now face a politically charged problem in the perceived threats to water supplies of hydraulic fracturing. Amid litigation and federal probes, insurance companies are left scratching their heads over how to price the risk of the oil and gas production technique now better known as fracking.
The lawsuits and tests so far provide little help. One much-cited case involved Cabot Oil & Gas Co, which settled in late 2010 for $4.1 million with residents of the small Pennsylvania town of Dimock over methane found in their water. Then on Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency said it had completed testing water at 61 homes in Dimock and found the drinking water was safe to consume. Insurers may get more clarity once EPA releases initial findings, due later this year, of its five-state investigation into the risks to drinking water of fracking.
Environmentalists say it can also pollute if fracking fluids seep out of wells. An EPA study showed fracking chemicals were likely present in a Wyoming aquifer near the town of Pavillion, but then it agreed in March to retest the water.
"From an insurance standpoint, it's really hard to underwrite something with a lot of uncertainty," Jeffrey Hanneman, the Texas-based director of environmental practice at insurance broker Aon Risk Solutions, said of fracking, "an area that now preoccupies a lot of my time." Read full story here: News New Mexico

California Has a Monopoly on Mega State Deficits

L.A. Times - Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Saturday that the state's deficit has ballooned to $16 billion, a huge increase over his $9.2-billion estimate in January.
The bigger deficit is a significant setback for California, which has struggled to turn the page on a devastating budget crisis. Brown, who announced the deficit on YouTube, is expected to outline his full budget proposal on Monday in Sacramento.
"This means we will have to go much further, and make cuts far greater, than I asked for at the beginning of the year," Brown said in the video.
Lawmakers and others were hoping that a rebounding economy would help the state avoid steep cuts to social services. But revenue in April, the most important month of the year for income taxes, fell far short of expectations, leading to a shortfall of at least $3 billion in the current fiscal year.
The state has also spent $2.1 billion more than expected, according to the controller, further worsening California's financial health.
Advocates involved in budget discussions say they expect deeper cuts to social services than Brown originally proposed in January. Union officials are also in negotiations with administration officials about ways to reduce state payroll costs, an issue that wasn't on the table earlier this year.
Brown has said there will be even deeper cuts, mostly to public education, if voters do not improve tax hikes in November. He is seeking a quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax for four years and a seven-year hike on incomes of $250,000 or more that will range from 1 to 3 percentage points. He says the measure would raise $9 billion in the upcoming budget year. Read full story here: News New Mexico

49 More Headless Bodies Found in Mexico

Reuters - Suspected drug gang killers dumped 49 headless bodies on a highway near Mexico's northern city of Monterrey in one of the country's worst atrocities in recent years.
The mutilated corpses of 43 men and 6 women, whose hands and feet had also been cut off, were found in a pile on a highway in the municipality of Cadereyta Jimenez in the early hours of Sunday, officials from the state of Nuevo Leon said.
"What's complicating the identification of all the people was that they were all headless," said Jorge Domene, the Nuevo Leon government's spokesman for public security, who said the other body parts were missing.
Domene said the brutal Zetas drug gang claimed responsibility for the murders in a message found at the scene. The massacre was the latest in a string of mass slayings that have convulsed Mexico in recent months, many of them in the north of the country, where the Zetas have waged a war against rival groups for control of smuggling routes. Read full story here: News New Mexico


Ray Powell Fights Dixon Apples

Albuquerque Journal - New Mexico’s most famous apple growers are taking their plight to the public, telling the story of how three generations of their family built a business growing Dixon apples. Of how, after a devastating year of flames and floods, the Mullane family is ready to pack up and move on. And how, by leasing the orchard and an adjacent 8,500 acres to San Felipe Pueblo for $2.8 million, the Mullanes will have capital to start over in Wisconsin.
But the state Land Office is trying to come up with its own version of a happy ending, and for now that does not include allowing the Mullanes to lease the orchard and adjacent land to the pueblo under the current contract terms. While the apple farm and its threatened trees have been the public focus of the dispute, a major issue for State Land Commissioner Ray Powell is an additional 8,500 additional acres attached to the orchard.
It is worth far more than the $100 a year the Mullanes are paying for it, he says. Powell says that’s the property — not the orchard — that the pueblo is willing to pay millions for, because it holds burial sites and other culturally important features.
Powell says he can extract the 8,500 acreage that was attached to the orchard in a 2007 lease deal and either trade it or find another lessee to make more money — he says it could bring in as much as $250,000 a year. Read full story here (subscription required) News New Mexico

NMSU Looks to Boost Faculty Salaries

KOB TV - New Mexico State University is taking steps to keep faculty members from leaving over lagging salary levels. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that several faculty members say the moves are steps in the right direction, but the university still lags behind its peers. Some also say morale remains low across the Las Cruces campus. In all, 224 faculty members have departed the NMSU system since 2008. That's a turnover rate of about 5 percent. Of those departures, exit interviews done by the university show that 23 percent left because of salary. NMSU spokeswoman Minerva Baumann says 88 percent of faculty members are below market compensation levels. Read full story here: News New Mexico