Senators quiz then confirm new state Corrections chief

Senators on Friday unanimously confirmed David Jablonski as the new secretary of the Corrections Department but he still faced several questions about the controversies that shadowed his predecessor’s resignation last year. Gov. Susana Martinez tapped Jablonski to head the state’s prison, probation and parole system at the end of October, when Secretary Gregg Marcantel stepped down after five years capped by several high-profile slip-ups, budget cuts that strained staff and mounting tensions with the union representing corrections officers. The relatively smooth confirmation Friday signaled that lawmakers are looking for a turnaround in an agency roiled by successive crises. Lawmakers suggested, for example, that the state had failed in its oversight of a private contractor previously hired to provide health care to inmates. Citing an investigation by The New Mexican last year that revealed a questionable death, allegations of inadequate care and a pile of resulting lawsuits under the former contractor, Corizon, Sen. Jeff Steinborn urged Jablonski to ensure greater accountability from the new provider, Centurion.

Infrastructure funding reform would lead to significant change

Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.

“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations.

Budget vetoes would force more cuts to essential services, senator warns

The state Senate’s leading budget hawk challenged Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday to reverse course and support proposals for raising taxes and fees or watch essential services get slashed even more. Sen. John Arthur Smith said any vetoes Martinez makes at this stage will force legislators to cut the budgets of public schools and health care as they follow the law to pass a balanced budget. “We’re out of places to find additional dollars,” Smith, D-Deming, said during a brief speech on the floor of the Senate. He spoke hours after the House of Representatives approved a $6.08 billion budget and then moved it to the Senate for consideration. The budget crafted by the Democrat-controlled House would increase state revenue by some $250 million with tax and fee increases.

Gov. Martinez’s appointees in line to be confirmed may overwhelm process

After a year of high-profile changes in Gov. Susana Martinez’s Cabinet, top officials from several of the most important departments in state government now await Senate confirmation hearings. But the secretaries of environment, finance and health are just of a few of the governor’s nearly 100 appointees on the agenda. With the long list, it is unclear how many appointees will even get a vote before the Senate adjourns March 18. New Mexico’s financial crisis will make confirmation hearings more difficult than usual. Staff members say the Senate Rules Committee only has enough money to conduct background checks on about half the appointees.

How did an alleged killer fall through cracks?

Among questions following the gruesome rape and murder last week of an Albuquerque girl that sent shockwaves across New Mexico is how one of the alleged perpetrators was present to commit the violence in the first place. Fabian Gonzales, one of three being charged in the murder of 10-year-old Victoria Martens, was supposed to be on supervised probation for a separate crime for a year-and-a-half before the night of Martens’ death. In Febraury 2015, a judge sentenced Gonzales, 31, to two years of probation after he pleaded guilty to battery and abandonment of a child. This two-year probation sentence, however, was never enforced. The sentence prohibited Gonzales from using illegal drugs and subjected him to random drug testing.

Martinez unveils $6.5 billion budget proposal; $228 million in new spending

Stressing priorities and the state’s shaky energy revenue source, Gov. Susana Martinez proposed a budget with a $228 million increase in recurring state spending. That comes out to a 3.7 percent increase over the previous year’s budget. At a press conference in a downtown Albuquerque building that houses the state Corrections Department, Martinez said her proposed budget emphasizes “three things above all others”— education, public safety and jobs. “Keeping New Mexicans safe, reforming and improving public education, and creating jobs by diversifying our economy and helping small businesses grow,” she said. The proposal comes even as legislators warn about the effects of low oil prices that show no sign of increasing.

Auditor report shows public agencies with deficiencies

State Auditor Tim Keller released a financial health report card of sorts for New Mexico state and local government. The attempt is to provide a financial health report card of sorts for New Mexico state and local government. Keller said in a statement that the new, annual Findings Report is meant to make the complex subject of financial audits of public agencies “more transparent to the public, legislators and oversight bodies.”

Public entities are required to conduct and release annual audits. And while the bulk of public agencies are handling their money well, Keller said a few “are not up to par and need to address weaknesses in their financial controls immediately.”

These include five state agencies that made material misstatements—or financial reports that don’t follow adequate auditing protocol—or “undetected” misstatements. Among those five agencies is the New Mexico Secretary of State, where embattled Dianna Duran is facing criminal charges for allegedly abusing her campaign money for personal purposes.