State weighs tuition-free college for local students
SANTA FE — New Mexico would eliminate tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate and community college students of all ages under a proposal from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that requires legislative approval.
The "opportunity scholarship" would tap the state general fund to cover costs not already paid for by federal scholarships and local lottery proceeds, a so-called last dollar approach used by a handful of states including New York that offer more limited free tuition.
The announcement at a community college in Albuquerque thrusts New Mexico to the forefront of a national political conversation about soaring student debt and tuition costs.
Free tuition would be available at continuing education programs for older students who return to school but not for graduate studies such as medical or law school.
New Mexico's general fund is bulging amid an oil production boom. General fund revenues during the coming fiscal year are forecast to exceed annual spending commitments of $7 billion by about $900 million.
But state economists say that government income in New Mexico is increasingly vulnerable to possible downturns in the oil and natural gas sectors. When oil prices and local petroleum production plunged in 2016, New Mexico slashed funding to its public universities and specialty schools by 5% to close a budget gap, under former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
New Mexico would spend an estimated $25 million to $35 million annually to offset tuition and fees at its 29 public colleges, universities and trade schools, according to the governor's office.
Students with a high school or equivalency diploma who meet a minimum grade point average would be eligible. An estimated 55,000 students would receive some benefit.
Bankers expect slow economic growth amid trade war
OMAHA — Bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states expect slow growth in the months ahead, but the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China is weighing on the economy.
The Rural Mainstreet survey's overall index climbed into positive territory at 50.1 in September from August's 46.5. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy, while a score below 50 indicates a shrinking economy.
Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, says bankers are less confident because of the ongoing trade disputes and the lack of approval for a new North American trade agreement.
The confidence index remained low at 42.9 in September — up slightly from August's 42.
Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.
Group joins effort to keep young professionals from leaving
CASPER — Wyoming is hemorrhaging young people, and has been for a while. Between 2010 and 2018, the state’s population of -to 29-year-olds dropped nearly 6%.
State and local officials say keeping people here is going to be crucial in the coming years, particularly as the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services predicts the state will add more than 5,000 jobs between now and 2020, but which also recorded a 2% workforce loss (7,000 working bodies) in the state between 2016 and 2017.
The Casper Area Economic Development Alliance wants to try a new tactic to keep young professionals in Wyoming, and Casper specifically: Introduce them to each other.
The organization is launching a young professionals group aimed at anybody between 21 and 39 years old who wants to grow professionally.
Sabrina Foreman, the group’s organizer and the economic development entity’s vice president of business development, said exposure to other industries could help people make career transitions within Casper’s business catalog, instead of leaving the city to take a new position.
The group will meet once a month starting in October, and in addition to “targeted networking” as Foreman calls it, the young professionals will hear presentations from various business people around town on a myriad of issues.
Police use sirens to drive bear up tree for relocation
OREM — Utah police used their vehicle sirens to drive a 2-year-old bear up a tree after its presence in a northern Utah town on caused morning traffic delays.
State Division of Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Faith Heaton Jolley said division personnel then were able to tranquilize the bear and catch it in a large net when it fell out of the tree.
Jolley said the brown-colored black bear was placed in a trap in the bed of a pickup truck and driven to the Wasatch Mountains, where it was released. Pictures show him jumping out of the truck and running away.
Jolley says it is unusual for a bear to be roaming city streets that are several miles away from mountains east of the city where wildlife biologists think it came from.
State brings big data to bear on methane pollution
SANTA FE — Satellite imagery and supercomputing capabilities will be used to detect and monitor methane pollution from major oil and natural gas installations in New Mexico, under an informal partnership between state regulators and the private-sector data cruncher Descartes Labs.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the collaborative effort in Santa Fe at a summit-style event that brought together oil industry specialists, regulators and environmentalists to explore technical challenges and solutions to conserving methane.
New Mexico is scaling up the regulation of oilfield disposal and leaks of methane as the Trump administration dials back its oversight. New state rules for limiting methane leaks are likely to be published next year at the end of lengthy technical review — with implications for a thriving oil and natural gas industry in the Permian Basin that extends across portions of southeastern New Mexico into West Texas.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, frequently leaks or is intentionally released during drilling operations. It traps far more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, doing 25 times the damage over the long term despite surviving for less time, according to the EPA.
Descartes Labs CEO Mark Johnson says his Santa Fe-based company is developing a data "refinery" that can chart industrial methane emissions using satellite imagery — including the European Space Agency's Sentinel-5P atmospheric monitor — and other sensors.
The results might be used to dispatch government inspectors more efficiently to help rein in leaks, or spur a range of innovative solutions, he said.
The oil and gas industry has said technological advancements are helping to curb methane emissions, even as production reaches record levels.
Congressman backs impeachment probe without saying 'impeachment'
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas is supporting a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump while avoiding using the term impeachment in a public statement.
The freshman Democrat tweeted Sept. 24 that she trusts relevant House committees to investigate and supports “this process continuing unimpeded.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the inquiry into whether Trump abused his presidential powers by seeking help from Ukraine’s president to undermine Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
Davids represents a GOP-leaning Kansas City-area district and had resisted calls for impeaching Trump. But she said that if Trump sought Ukraine’s help to investigate an opponent, it would be “a clear abuse of power.”