Despite favorable economic forecast, Guv’s office says furloughs still on the table

The latest New Mexico revenue projections appear to be convincing economists and state officials there is enough money to finance state government through June without resorting to government furloughs. “Based on the projections we see, yes, I think there are adequate funds,” Deputy state Treasurer Sam Collins told NM Political Report. New Mexico State University economics professor Jim Peach recently gave the Santa Fe New Mexican a similar answer. But Gov. Susana Martinez, who has been threatening furloughs for a month, had a different take. Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan warned that the state still may not have enough cash on hand to avoid furloughs and is calling on the state Legislature to fix this in a special session.

State college exchange program sees cuts amid budget troubles

State budget troubles are prompting the New Mexico Higher Education Department to make cuts to a program local students use to attend colleges in nearby states for programs not offered at home. New Mexico pays into the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program that allows local students to go to dentistry and veterinary schools outside of the state at a reduced rate. To qualify for the loan for service, students must sign a declaration of intent to return to and work in New Mexico once they finish school. Currently, 67 students from New Mexico benefit from the WICHE exchange program. By next fall, that number will drop by six students.

Public school, college leaders warn lawmakers of effects from budget cuts

The superintendent of a small school district in Southern New Mexico told state lawmakers in no uncertain terms Tuesday how a 5 percent or 6 percent cut in his operating budget would affect his district. “Our teachers work very hard to put hope in front of those kids,” Ricky Williams, superintendent of Hagerman Municipal Schools, told members of the Senate Finance Committee. “With budget cuts, you take that hope away.” Williams was one of several district leaders and college presidents who put a human face on the realities of education funding cuts during a three-hour hearing at the state Capitol, which attracted about 150 people — many of them educators. Garrey Carruthers, president of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, told the committee that colleges and universities may have to hike tuition rates by up to 30 percent to offset budget reductions.

After Trump order, NM colleges, universities urge affected students not to leave country

At least three four-year universities in New Mexico are telling international students affected by President Trump’s controversial executive order affecting immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries to not leave the United States. The University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology formally instructed international students from any of the seven countries to not travel outside the U.S. in the near future. Trump’s executive order temporarily bars those from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country. “Citizens of those countries, who wish to return to the US, should not plan to travel abroad at this time,” UNM wrote in a news release Monday. In his weekly letter to students and faculty, UNM Acting President Chaouki Abdallah noted that Trump’s order affects “more than 100 individuals in the UNM community.”

On Sunday, NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers made a similar call to his students.

Economists: Oil turnaround to spur New Mexico growth

While state lawmakers continue to slash budgets, unemployment remains high, and more uncertainty than ever surrounds federal government policies, economists said Tuesday that New Mexico’s economy has stabilized and will see an uptick in growth in the coming year. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, economists from the state’s two largest universities said higher energy prices are helping boost growth, and that means higher employment and income levels throughout New Mexico by 2018. Jeff Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said that when he spoke to lawmakers a year ago, the price for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude had slumped to $26.60. That benchmark as of Tuesday had climbed to almost $53. “I remember sitting here a year ago and we watched it go to $26.60,” Mitchell said.

Experts paint grim picture on oil prices to legislators

Two experts gave a presentation of a grim scenario about oil and gas prices on Wednesday afternoon. The two spoke to the Senate Finance Committee, which plays a key role in crafting the annual state budget. Jeff Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research and Dr. Jim Peach, Professor of Economics at New Mexico State University outlined the problems—with few solutions—that New Mexico faces in the wake of tumbling oil prices. Mitchell’s outlook, which was slightly better than Peach’s, was that while the state is still reeling from low oil prices, the employment impact of low oil prices should wear off by 2016.  Mitchell added that lower gas prices also means more savings for consumers at the pump, which generally leads to more money spent on goods and services throughout the state.

Agriculture’s role in NM economy, culture, water cycle

Jeff Witte is the state secretary of agriculture. He grew up on a ranch in northern New Mexico. National Farmers Market Week this week got me thinking about the economic and cultural importance of not just the state’s 75 farmers markets, but of New Mexico agriculture more broadly. On the economics side, New Mexico agriculture is a $4 billion-a-year sector. But the true financial impact of agriculture in the state is much bigger.

Drought persists despite a rainy May

May rains have come through New Mexico, making the landscape a little more green than New Mexicans are used to. May of 2015 is one of the top-ten wettest months in Albuquerque history when it comes to precipitation. Thanks in large part to this, the May drought outlook looks better than it has in years. The May 19 update to the Drought Monitor from The National Drought Mitigation Center found that less than half of the state was in a drought. This was the first time since 2011 that this could be said.

Lobbyists and organizations spend half million dollars on pols this year

By Sandra Fish | New Mexico In Depth
Lobbyists and organizations feted New Mexico legislators and other officials with more than $519,000 worth of food, drink and gifts from Jan. 15 through the end of April. Of the 600 lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State’s office to represent more than 750 clients, only 116 spent money during the session. Those individual lobbyists spent $334,419 on events such as the 100th Bill Party, electric toothbrushes, teddy bears, gift certificates and, in one instance, ammunition for concealed carry training. And 14 companies spent $184,685.