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Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 p.m. MST

  • BUDGET SURPLUS-NEW MEXICO

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's governor and leading state legislators are proposed a $1 billion increase in general fund spending for the coming fiscal year. The budget proposals unveiled on Thursday call for a spending boost of about 14% aimed at shoring up access to health care, improving public education and providing new investments in child wellbeing and public safety. The lead budget-writing committee for the Democrat-led Legislature outlined its spending priorities ahead of a 30-day session starting Jan. 18 that focuses primarily on spending and taxation. Leading legislators say they have a rare opportunity to change the course of education and the state economy.

  • NEW MEXICO WIND PROJECT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A California-based renewable energy company says work is complete on four wind farms in New Mexico that total more than a gigawatt of capacity. Pattern Energy officials announced Thursday that the Western Spirit Wind project has started commercial operations. The company had billed it as the largest single-phase construction of renewable power in the U.S. The wind farms span three counties in central New Mexico and will be capable of churning out enough electricity to power roughly 365,000 homes. Power purchase agreements are in place to serve several California utilities. Pattern Energy also plans $6 billion in projects in New Mexico over the next decade.

  • COMMUNITY SOLAR-NEW MEXICO

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has until April to finish crafting rules for the state's new community solar program. The commission has held several workshops and meetings over the past year as part of the process. They were set to hear from members of the public Thursday, but only two people signed up. Commission staff said most have submitted their comments in writing. Advocates have said the goal is to ensure all communities that want access to renewable energy can connect through community solar, especially low-income households and underserved areas.

  • SPACEPORT-WHISTLEBLOWER LAWSUIT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The former chief financial officer for the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has filed a whistleblower lawsuit. Zach DeGregorio alleges he was forced to resign after raising concerns about financial malfeasance. DeGregorio also claims top officials committed securities fraud by refinancing spaceport gross receipts tax bonds under false pretenses. He also says in the lawsuit last week that secret meetings were held between state officials and Spaceport America's most notable tenant, Virgin Galactic. The lawsuits lists officials including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes and members of the spaceport authority board. A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham says her office will not comment on pending litigation.

  • MONEY LAUNDERING SENTENCE

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (AP) — A former New Mexico Taxation and Revenue employee has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, identity theft and money laundering. Prosecutors say 45-year-old George Martinez of Albuquerque was indicted by a federal grand jury last March. They say Martinez pleaded guilty Wednesday to 42 counts each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft and six counts of money laundering. According to the indictment, Martinez was accused of using his position as a unit manager at the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department to fraudulently alter tax refunds and direct nearly $690,00 to bank accounts that he controlled between May 2011 and July 2018. Prosecutors say Martinez faces up to 32 years in prison when he's sentenced.

  • VIRUS OUTBREAK-NEW MEXICO

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Only a couple of school districts and a handful of individual schools in New Mexico are pausing in-person learning for a week amid rising COVID-19 cases. That's according to data collected by the Public Education Department based on voluntary reporting by schools. New Mexico's largest districts have plans aimed at keeping kids in the classroom this semester. And state health officials said during a briefing Wednesday that the classroom is probably the safest place for children. Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase did acknowledge that the challenge might be having enough staff if teachers miss work. Like other states, New Mexico is seeing more cases due to spread of the omicron variant.

  • NAVAJO-HARDSHIP ASSISTANCE

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo President Jonathan Nez has approved $557 million in virus relief funds for individual tribal members. Nez signed the legislation late Tuesday to send $2,000 checks to Navajo adults and $600 to children under 18. Tribal lawmakers voted last week to tap some of the $2.1 billion the tribe received in federal coronavirus relief funding for hardship assistance. The money is expected to benefit about 350,000 tribal members. The payments will be sent automatically to those who applied for relief funds under a previous round of hardship assistance. The tribe plans to use the remaining funds for infrastructure.

  • CAPITOL RIOT-IN THEIR OWN WORDS

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many of the Jan. 6 rioters facing jail time have admitted they weren't peaceful protesters and that they were wrong to participate in the U.S. Capitol attack. Some directly accuse former President Donald Trump of misleading them. While Trump continues to lie about the facts of the insurrection, the statements of his supporters in federal court tell a different story. One of them, retired Special Forces soldier Leonard Gruppo, wrote in a letter, "I trusted the President and that was a big mistake." Other rioters remain defiant on the first anniversary of the insurrection.