Editorial: NM lawmakers, new governor must respect what’s currently up will ultimately go down

After two years of belt tightening and difficult austerity measures implemented to plug nine-figure holes and balance the state budget, revenues for New Mexico are once again soaring.

Revenue for the current budget year was up by $672 million through January compared to the same period last year, according to the state Taxation and Revenue Department.

That’s great news for our state. And while Roundhouse lawmakers will no doubt be tempted to go on a spending spree when they convene in January, they should hold off on that impulse because, as Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith points out, the state’s economy is still heavily reliant on a market-driven fossil fuel industry.

“We’re on the roller coaster of oil and gas,” says Smith, a Deming Democrat.

While revenues are up right now, they can just as easily tank. Given the boom in the Permian Basin, specifically the production occurring in Lea, Eddy and San Juan counties, we doubt revenues will sink in the near future, but it’s a boom-bust industry so what goes up eventually comes down. And as the state revenues of 2017 vs. 2018 show – what a difference a single year can make.

Realizing that, lawmakers and the governor last year created a true rainy day fund to help the state ride out some revenue lean years. And there will be more than $15 million flowing into that fund thanks to the uptick in revenue this year.

Lawmakers and the next governor should consider pumping more money into that rainy day fund. It’s not sexy, but it’s the financially responsible thing to do, and they and taxpayers will be glad they did it when the roller coaster that is our state’s revenue source takes a downturn.

Yes, we’re riding high now, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that our revenue stream is volatile and the highs don’t last.

Of course, pouring more money into the rainy day fund doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t be able to tackle other priorities. Now is the ideal time to move forward on efforts like tax reform and expanding proven early childhood education efforts.

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New Mexico desperately needs tax reform – from lowering and broadening gross receipts taxes, to eliminating pyramiding and local government double dipping on GRT, to establishing equity between brick-and-mortar and internet sales. Lawmakers began working on that project in the midst of the budget crisis in 2017, but those efforts went nowhere during this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers shouldn’t wait for another budget crisis to try to get tax reform across the finish line.

The new revenues also give lawmakers the opportunity to continue investing in data-driven early childhood education. New Mexico already ranks 16th in the nation on 4-year-olds’ pre-K participation rates and 20th on spending. And a record number of students will start elementary school five weeks early this summer as part of the K-3 Plus program. Indeed, a record $28.8 million has been awarded to schools this summer for the program.

Given N.M.’s struggles with child well-being, there’s certainly more our state must do. The additional revenues give lawmakers the opportunity to build on what’s already been done and to expand early childhood services like pre-K and even in-home visits with new parents. But funding these initiatives is not the end-all, be-all some would claim: key will be finding enough qualified individuals to deliver the services, then tracking their implementation to ensure the public is getting a meaningful return on its investment.

CHI St. Joseph’s Children, an Albuquerque nonprofit, has come up with a blueprint for rolling out these services. Part of the windfall New Mexico is experiencing could and should be invested in these programs – but it must include a mechanism for tracking outcomes not only to justify this spending but any expansion down the road.

It’s ironic that a year ago, state leaders were fretting about how to plug a massive budget deficit and this year, the state is flush with cash. Given that level of volatility, it’s incumbent on lawmakers and whomever is elected governor to invest any new money wisely.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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Downtown Albuquerque standoff ends with five people taken into custody

It was a long SWAT standoff as two men ended up at a small duplex and hid somewhere inside.

Monday around 4:00 p.m. officers with New Mexico State Police and the Albuquerque Police Department were working a tact plan and spotted a stolen car.

"The attempted to stop that vehicle, and that vehicle immediately rammed the State Police officer and crashed into his car," APD Officer Simon Drobik said.

As they fled from officers, APD says they fired shots at police, then led them to an apartment complex in downtown Albuquerque near 11th and Coal.

Two men were immediately taken into custody, but the other two took off on foot.

Police locked down the ara, not letting anyone through for hours.

People whose families live across the street from the scene were calling to let them know they were safe.

Neighbors who live close by say it was a scary scene.

Before officers could safely get the other two men into custody, both department’s SWAT teams were called out to negotiate.

"We come across these guys all the time. They don’t care, they’re firing at officers, they’re in a stolen car and we’ve talked about this before," Drobik said.

Police say a woman was also arrested at the scene. Police say she was in the car with the man who rammed the officer before fleeing to the apartment complex.

Five people were taken into custody, however, police say it appears not all of them will be charged in this case.

APD has not said where they tried to stop the stolen car in the first place. Officers did not return fire when they were shot at.

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Armed Burglar Entered House Just to Face Man With Pistol — Now He Has a Bullet in His Butt

A New Mexico homeowner’s boyfriend whipped out his gun and shot a knife-wielding burglar who left the scene with literal butthurt.

Carlos Vasquez, the boyfriend, said he shot 57-year-old burglar Michael Dunn when he pulled a knife and tried to attack him last Thursday. Police later discovered the stolen items in Dunn’s vehicle and charged him with burglary and aggravated assault, according to KOB4.

Dunn was trying to escape after the homeowner’s boyfriend reportedly trapped him between the front door and a locked security door.

Dunn, according to the Albuquerque Journal, was homeless and went to jail after his release from the hospital.

He said it appears the homeowner was protecting himself and he will not be charged. He didn’t identify him. https://t.co/qerV7lUqbq pic.twitter.com/KeVOZSDPKQ

— Albuquerque Journal (@ABQJournal) April 4, 2018

Police said that Vasquez only intended to scare Dunn, not to shoot him.

“(Dunn) happened to jump in front of him when the shot was fired," an officer wrote. ”[Vasquez] did not have any intention of actually shooting (Dunn)."

As the Journal noted, Albuquerque previously saw other similar incidents:

In November, police say Warren Wild shot 21-year-old Rodolfo Serrano-Urais in both legs when Serrano-Urais tried to flee after burglarizing his property with another man.

Others weren’t so lucky.

Two days before Christmas, 24-year-old Edward Ortega-Landros was shot to death, in what police called a justifiable homicide, by another man after breaking into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment.

“The guy pulled a knife on him and took a swipe at his face that homeowner decided to defend himself,” the Albuquerque Police Department said.

“We don’t advocate shooting anybody, of course,” Simon Drobik, the department’s public information officer, said. “But in this circumstance, he was defending himself.”

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NM legislator sues challenger over residency

Idalia Lechuga-Tena, ousted from the state House of Representatives in the 2016 Democratic Party primary election, is running again in her Albuquerque district.

Rep. Debra Sariñana, who unseated Lechuga-Tena two years ago and is seeking re-election, is suing her challenger, arguing Lechuga-Tena does not live in the residence she has listed as home.

“Lechuga-Tena’s actions in creating a sham residence are nothing less than a deliberate attempt to evade the fundamental eligibility requirements expressly provided by our constitution and statutes,” the lawsuit says.

Questions about Lechuga-Tena’s residence dogged her when she was appointed by the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners in 2015 to fill a seat in the state House.

The New Mexican reported at the time she rented an apartment in House District 21 two days before applying for the appointment.

Lechuga-Tena stirred other controversy, too. Born in Mexico, she admitted she had voted in an election before becoming a U.S. citizen.

She went on to lose the three-way primary election, finishing behind Sariñana.

Lechuga-Tena seemed to be moving on. She married Santa Fe-based lobbyist and lawyer Marco Gonzales last year. Their application for a marriage license, filed in state District Court, lists her address as a post office box.

But earlier this month, she filed to run for her old House district spanning Albuquerque’s International District, from Louisiana Boulevard along Interstate 40 to Tramway.

She listed the same address as when she first served in the House.

Sariñana’s lawsuit says Lechuga-Tena would have had to reside at that address when the governor issued a proclamation Jan. 29 setting the dates for the election this year.

Lechuga-Tena bought the property she has listed as her residence out of foreclosure in early 2016. The city of Albuquerque deemed it substandard a few weeks later, according to documents filed with Sariñana’s lawsuit.

The house is a rental property, but it did not have utilities and the ceiling was in danger of falling in, the lawsuit says.

In addition, Sariñana’s suit states, another occupant has lived in the home for at least several months. Neighbors can attest that Lechuga-Tena does not reside at the address, the suit adds.

Lechuga-Tena did not respond to a message seeking comment. In her announcement video, however, she describes herself as a homeowner in House District 21.

New Mexico law is not clear cut when it comes to determining where a candidate must live to get on the ballot.

Candidates for the state House must reside in their district. But the state Supreme Court has said this depends on a candidate’s intentions and often whether the candidate has a “significant physical presence” at a residence.

A state district judge in Albuquerque is scheduled to hear arguments in the lawsuit on Wednesday.

No Republican or Libertarian has filed to run in the district. Whoever wins the Democratic Party primary is likely to win the general election.

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ABQ multifamily housing occupancy, rents remain high, CBRE report shows – Albuquerque Business First

Multifamily housing units in Albuquerque continue to show high occupancy rates and solid rent growth, according to a January survey by commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE.

The CBRE January 2018 apartment market survey looked at both market-rate and affordable properties in the Albuquerque area and found market-rate rents increased at a rate of 2.25 percent year-over-year, from an average of $800 to $818.

The statistics were based on 194 multi-housing communities with nearly 41,000 units, including 148 market-rate and 46 affordable properties.

Although occupancy at market-rate units was down by just over a half percent from last year, it remains high, at nearly 95 percent. Affordable-rate property occupancy declined by about 1 percent, while rents rose by 1.51 percent.

Studio apartments saw the highest gains in rental rates at 3.71 percent, with rent for one-bedroom units rising 2.49 percent and for three-bedroom/one-bath apartments at 2.11 percent. Rents for two-bedroom/two-bath units rose at a rate of less than 2 percent.

The survey forecasts modest growth for the multi-unit market in Albuquerque over the next two years, with an estimated 1,200 market-rate units and about 400 affordable units expected to be built. Market-rate apartments are planned for the NE Heights, Downtown and Uptown, with affordable housing scattered throughout the city.

CBRE has conducted the apartment market survey three times annually since 2008, and has consistently found January to be the seasonal low point for multifamily housing occupancy, with an increase in May and a high point in September. Los Angeles-based CBRE is the largest commercial real estate firm in New Mexico, with $447 million in 2017 transactions, according to Business First’s List.

Nearly 40 percent of Albuquerque properties offer renters some form of concessions, including “specials” that affect first-month or ongoing rent reductions, the survey found.

Albuquerque’s apartment market contributes more than $1.3 billion to the local economy and 14,300 jobs are supported by the industry, according to Hoyt Advisory Services research.

The city also was ranked 22nd out of 50 metro areas in terms of the hardest cities in which to add needed apartments, according to that research.

However, the same research ranked Albuquerque toward the "easier" category in terms of local regulations and available land.

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Paul Mondragón tries to expand his and Bank of America’s presence in the community – Albuquerque Business First

After a year and a half as senior vice president and senior relationship manager at Bank of America, Paul Mondragón feels the need to always try and do more.

Bank of America was second in Business First’s Largest Banks List behind Wells Fargo. The rankings were determined by the volume of local deposits, in which Bank of America had $3.84 billion in 2016. Mondragón sat down with Business First to give an update on his bank’s performance, along with strategies on how Albuquerque and New Mexico can grow.

What is the status of your bank’s performance?

I can say Bank of America is very strong through all of the compliance tests we have to go through with the FDIC The capital tests we have to go through, we are above where we need to be. So we are very strongly capitalized. We are a different organization than we were coming out of the financial crises. Exceptionally strong balance sheet right now. I think we have like half a trillion in cash.

A year and a half or so on the job, what have you learned about the job, about yourself that you didn’t know before?

There’s always room to do a little more, and there’s always more asked. Whether it’s internally, working with the teams or it’s external, getting out and meeting people in the community. There’s a real need in the community for not just banks, but other companies to step in and step up and help our community. If you look at the nonprofits, there’s always a need for housing. Specifically, homelessness and housing. We’ll rally volunteers to go and help out. We also send dollars there.

What’s your strategy for inching closer to Wells Fargo in terms of local deposits?

It’s about doing right by our customers. We think we have a great platform — our online services, we think we have great people — we want to bring that to the customers and show them the value by bringing the full bank to them. Whether it’s consumer deposits, or it’s some specialized commercial banking, high-touch treasury management needs, Merrill Lynch, corporate investments, whatever it happens to be, we can bring that to our customers, and that’s how we want to win is by depth with those customers that really can get value out of the service. No super special sauce.

Do recent scandals at Wells Fargo affect your operations at all?

I’ve got a bunch of friends there. It’s unfortunate, I’ll say that. We’ll focus on ourselves and doing what we need to do in order to win customers.

How can Albuquerque and New Mexico grow?

What’s kind of inspiring right now is the grassroots efforts with ABQid, Innovate ABQ … everything that is really working toward the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s great everything AED is doing, New Mexico Partnership, all these different groups trying to bring in companies. I think the real thing is trying to bootstrap ourselves up with our entrepreneurial spirit and trying to grow internally. Focusing the city’s effort, the state’s effort on those companies already here I think is the best way. We want to still call and get those people from outside to move here, but the consistency of being able to support the local business, whether it’s the bank’s lending money, the city and the state with their tax incentives to help them. We need to shop local, we need to buy local. If I want a doughnut, I go to Donut Mart, I don’t go to Krispy Kreme. If I want a burger, I’ll go to Laguna Burger. That’s what I want, as much as possible. I shop at Duran’s all the time. I think that’s one thing is people can look at themselves and their habits on where they’re spending money.

Largest Banks in New Mexico

Ranked by Deposit volume, local

Rank Business name Deposit volume, local 1 Wells Fargo Bank N.A. $8.48 billion 2 Bank of America N.A. $3.84 billion 3 U.S. Bank N.A. $1.52 billion View This List

Paul Mondragón tries to expand Bank of America’s presence in the community

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Santa Fe and Albuquerque in the Top 20 Cities for LGBT-Friendly Retirement in 2018 by SeniorAdvice.com – Albuquerque Business First

Two cities in the Land of Enchantment have made the list of Top 20 Cities for LGBT-friendly retirement in 2018 by SeniorAdvice.com.

SeniorAdvice.com is one of the nation’s leading senior housing referral services, according to the company’s news release. This is the website’s second annual list for best retirement cities for LGBT seniors. SeniorAdvice included both medium-sized and large U.S. cities in the 2018 list, defining medium-sized cities as those with 50,000 to 500,000 residents and large cities as those with over 500,000 residents.

The 20 cities on this year’s list were chosen based on a variety of factors, including percentage of LGBT population in the area, available social activities and festivals, presence of gay-friendly senior communities, LGBT Chamber of Commerce presence and more. SeniorAdvice also based rankings on the cities’ SeniorScore, an algorithm that determines how well a city accommodates the needs of senior citizens, incorporating variables such as access to health care and population of senior residents. Data comes from sources including Medicare and the U.S. Census Bureau. The SeniorScore is broken into four categories: health and safety, recreation and leisure, finances and general quality of life.

Ranking No. 6 is New Mexico’s capital, with a SeniorScore of 75 percent. Santa Fe boasts a high senior population of 14 percent, according to SeniorAdvice. SeniorAdvice commends Santa Fe for its "fresh and progressive stance" toward the LGBT community, despite being America’s oldest capital city. Its abundance of culture, art, shopping and dining also contribute to its desirable atmosphere, perfect for gay retirees, according to SeniorAdvice. There are also numerous senior living facilities in and around the city, including Birds of a Feather in Pecos, New Mexico, which ranked No. 9 on SeniorAdvice’s list of Top 15 LGBT-Friendly Senior Living Communities in the U.S. Founded in 2004, Birds of a Feather is a thriving LGBT-friendly senior community on a 140-acre property just outside of the village of Pecos and 30 minutes east of Santa Fe.

The Duke City ranks No. 18 out of the top 20 cities in the country for LGBT-friendly retirement with a SeniorScore of 73 percent. SeniorAdvice recognizes Albuquerque for its low property taxes and great weather. Albuquerque is also home to Equality NM, a statewide LGBT advocacy and civil rights organization that spearheads policy changes on behalf of the LGBTQ community. The Duke City hosts the annual Pride Fest at Expo NM and is home to numerous gay-friendly hot spots and gay-owned local businesses, serving as an all-around destination for the LGBTQ traveler, according to the Visit Albuquerque website.

The LGBT community is a big contributor to New Mexico’s economy, both as sellers and consumers. Thirteen companies made last year’s list by Albuquerque Business First of the top LGBT-owned businesses in the state. The leading six companies submitted 2016 revenue figures that totaled about $19 million.

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Suit claims DOH neglects boarding house oversight

SANTA FE – A nonprofit group that advocates for the rights of people with mental illness is suing the New Mexico Department of Health and Cabinet Secretary K. Lynn Gallagher for failure to enforce rules and regulations pertaining to the oversight of boarding homes.

Patients who leave the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas, N.M., often end up in substandard local boarding houses.

Disability Rights of New Mexico, a nonprofit group with offices in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Las Vegas, N.M., claims in the state court lawsuit filed Monday that DOH is shirking its responsibilities, which “poses a dire public health and safety risk to some of the state’s most vulnerable populations.”

The group is asking a judge to issue an order requiring DOH to begin enforcing provisions of the state Public Health Act on boarding homes or show cause why not.

“The state has taken no responsibility in enforcing those,” said James Jackson, Disability Rights New Mexico’s CEO. “We’re hoping that the judge will get them to begin the process immediately.”

The lawsuit refers to ongoing boarding home problems in Las Vegas, N.M., including a case where two men who had been patients at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2013 after moving into a storage shed rented out as living space.

Disability Rights visited multiple boarding homes in Las Vegas and Albuquerque, and found “a multitude of egregious residential conditions,” including overcrowding – with as many as 20 people sharing a bathroom – mattresses on the floor, inadequate or dangerous heating and air-conditioning, and filthy kitchens and bathrooms.

A DOH spokesman wouldn’t comment on the suit, but provided a statement that said, “The New Mexico Department of Health takes seriously its role to ensure quality health care for the state’s most vulnerable. We will continue to work with state lawmakers and other agencies to address these challenges.”

Jackson said legislation to make it clear DOH should regulate boarding homes was vetoed last year by Gov. Susana Martinez. The bill came on the heels of a Journal investigation that revealed poor living conditions in some Las Vegas boarding homes,

The lawsuit states that people with mental illness often end up in unregulated boarding homes after being released from the Behavioral Health Institute and other mental health care facilities. They are often at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation, the suit states.

The lawsuit alleges that since 2014, DOH has taken the stance that it regulates boarding homes only to the extent that they meet the definition of “assisted living facility.”

But Disability Rights says DOH has a responsibility to provide oversight of boarding homes under the Public Health Act’s definition of “health facility.” The suit says that the definition for a health facility under state law includes any “boarding home not under the control of an institute of higher learning.”

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Blue Bell announces its return to NM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Here are the cold hard facts about Blue Bell Ice Cream: The Texas-based company will reopen its distribution facility in Albuquerque and fans can once again find their favorite frozen treat at area supermarkets and drug stores the week of March 12.

“It has always been our goal to return to the Albuquerque area,” said Wayne Hugo, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. In 2015, Blue Bell pulled its ice cream out of the frozen dessert aisles after a listeria outbreak.

“Blue Bell has been available in parts of southeastern New Mexico since 2016. And now, with the addition of Albuquerque and its surrounding area, we are able to offer our products to even more stores across the state,” said Hugo. “We can’t thank our customers enough for their patience.”

The company has begun ramping up its workforce for its distribution facility in Albuquerque. “We will continue hiring over the next few months,” Hugo said.

The company curtailed production and distribution in 2015 after its products were linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas. Production plants in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama underwent an extensive cleaning and decontamination process.

Known as “the little creamery in Brenham (Texas),” Statista, an online statistics, market research and business intelligence portal, said Blue Bell, despite its setbacks, is doing big-time business. Statista said it was the fifth-ranked ice cream brand in the U.S. in 2017, with $425 million in sales. Total ice cream category sales amounted to about $5.4, billion according to Statista,

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