- POPULATION STAGNANT-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A new assessment of demographic trends in New Mexico says a population decline is imminent, with consequences for public spending and services. The report Thursday from the Legislature's budget and accountability office adds to indications in the 2020 Census of a population slowdown and suggests that schools and universities may want to plan accordingly. At the same time, economic development officials are marshalling tax incentives to attract new employers to a state with a relatively weak economy and poor national rankings in education, health and safety. Demographers project a pronounced drop in school- and working-aged residents and a drain on rural areas.
The federal agency that oversees U.S. nuclear research and bomb-making has signed off on the first planning and design phase for a multibillion-dollar project to manufacture key components for the nation's nuclear arsenal. The plan calls for making at least 30 plutonium cores per year at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico. The National Nuclear Security Administration says design and construction could cost upwards of $4 billion initially. Watchdog groups say that's roughly double the projections made just last year. They also have concerns about the lab's safety and security record. The lab is scheduled to hold a community meeting Thursday evening.
- PANDEMIC SCHOOL SPENDING
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico education officials are beginning to spend $1.5 billion in federal pandemic relief set aside for school districts and the Public Education Department. The Legislative Finance Committee said in a release Thursday that school districts have spent around 4% of the funds so far. They've got plenty of time to budget the three rounds of relief money, which have deadlines between the fall of 2022 and 2024. School districts say they've spent millions on laptops for students, safety equipment for schools, and hazard pay for frontline workers. They're also planning to use the money to ramp up summer programs and tutoring.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-UNEMPLOYMENT
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told Albuquerque business leaders that the state will soon adopt new policies encouraging residents receiving jobless benefits to go back to work. The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that the Democratic governor said the policies would be unveiled in the next week or so and that extended benefits should not be a "disincentive" to work. Some business owners have said they are struggling to compete against expanded unemployment benefits, saying incentives have yet to attract a large applicant pool. Advocacy groups argue workers should not be blamed for not wanting to put their families at risk.
- STATEHOUSE REOPENS-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico state Capitol building has reopened to the public as the COVID-19 pandemic eases. It was closed to the general public for four consecutive legislative sessions. About 50 visitors wandered the corridors of the circular Statehouse on Wednesday as the doors were unlocked to all visitors for the first time in roughly a year. They were asked to wear masks and most if not all abided. Legislators shifted last spring to mostly virtual committee hearings as the pandemic took hold. Voting even took place remotely from outside the Capitol among members of the House of Representatives.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NAVAJO NATION
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation on Wednesday reported 15 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths. Tribal health officials say the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago now is 30,485 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The number of known deaths remains at 1,273. The tribe reported no coronavirus cases and no COVID-19 related deaths on Tuesday. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says the tribe is moving closer to herd immunity.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NEW MEXICO
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she expects the state to reopen by the end of June, when 60% of residents are predicted to be fully vaccinated. She made the announcement Wednesday, proclaiming that the state was conquering COVID. New Mexico has been racing to get more people vaccinated. The latest state data shows more than 41% of residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated. But some people still don't want to be vaccinated. Researchers at University of New Mexico Health Sciences have been awarded $1.4 million in federal funding to explore why as part of a national effort.
- NEW MEXICO WILDFIRE
THREE RIVERS, N.M. (AP) — Rain and snow helped crews working to keep a wildfire from spreading in forested mountains in south-central New Mexico. The fire was located west of the Ski Apache ski resort in the Sacramento Mountains and its size was estimated at 12,000 acres, with containment around 5% of its perimeter as of Wednesday. The fire has reached the scar from a previous wildfire, meaning there was less live vegetation to burn but more dry debris on the forest flood, officials said. The fire started Monday and its cause remained under investigation. Evacuation notices were lifted Tuesday for most areas near the fire.