The wall of the shipping container at the border collapses
PHOENIX – Former Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s border barrier made of shipping containers has been largely dismantled in time for a new Democratic administration, costing tens of millions of dollars in just a few months to erect and dismantle them.
The removal of the giant red, gold, and blue steel crates resulted in a marked visual change in affected parts of the southern Arizona countryside as a new governor took power and another $76 million in state funds were spent to add to the containers to the $95 million it cost to put them there.
Ducey had said the containers, which were placed at an opening along the border near western Yuma Township and above a grassland valley in Arizona’s eastern Cochise County, were intended as a temporary measure until the Biden administration approved permanent construction to secure it carried out at the border.
Gov. Katie Hobbs, who was sworn in on Jan. 2, was among Democrats who called it a political stunt.
An agreement between Ducey’s administration and federal agencies, named in a lawsuit Ducey filed, called for the containers to be brought down by Jan. 4, but the court later suspended all deadlines in the case by 30 days, ordering Hobbs and allow the new Attorney General Kris Mayes time to review the situation.
At Yuma, all 130 containers covering approximately 3,800 feet were removed by January 3, but about a third of the approximately 3,000 containers were placed in remote Cochise County, raising concerns about possible damage to local wildlife and natural water systems. before protesters stopped this work in early December. Conservationists said work in Coronado National Forest is endangering endangered or threatened species like the western yellow-billed cuckoo and Mexican spotted owl.
The legislator is aiming for an automatic increase in the basic wage
SANTA FE — Democratic lawmakers want to tie New Mexico’s statewide minimum wage to an inflation index to allow for potentially automatic annual increases.
Draft legislation by state Reps. Miguel Garcia of Albuquerque and Christine Chandler of Los Alamos was released Jan. 4 that would provide for an automatic adjustment of the state minimum wage based on the consumer price index released by the US Department of Labor. The proposals can be debated once lawmakers meet for a 60-day session on January 17.
Incremental increases in the national minimum wage were approved by lawmakers in 2019 and have started their run with a January 1 increase to $12 an hour.
Chandler’s bill would initially raise the minimum wage to $16 an hour in 2024, with automatic annual increases thereafter to offset inflation.
The gap continues to widen between the 20 states that charge the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and the 30 others that charge more.
US inflation, an afterthought for decades, rebounded with a vengeance in 2022, reaching levels not seen since the early 1980s.
Average wages have not kept pace with prices, and low-income households, which spend disproportionately more on housing, fuel and food, have been hit hardest. At the same time, businesses large and small are struggling to contain higher costs.
University, Los Alamos join investigation into migratory bird deaths
SANTA FE — Two years after New Mexico saw migratory birds literally fall from the sky, New Mexico State University and Los Alamos National Laboratory have announced plans to establish a bird extinction research program.
The two institutions will work with the US Geological Survey and other agencies to recruit and train students to study “disaster ecology,” the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Dec. 31.
A $250,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture combined with other funding sources will cover the cost of 24 students – graduate and undergraduate – to participate in the four-year program.
The students are investigating how a changing climate affects migratory birds and leads to the kind of die-off that happened in autumn 2020.
Sightings of groups of dead birds have been reported by local residents in the Taos area and Valles Caldera National Preserve north to cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico, including the White Sands Missile Range.
Analyzes by biologists showed starvation and unexpected weather were behind the die-off. Researchers said at the time that many of the birds were severely emaciated. A freak storm likely caused them to become disoriented and crash into objects or buildings.
They ruled out illness and poisoning.
The outgoing senator is aware of the Trump criticism and is shaping the legacy
OMAHA — Nebraska’s outgoing U.S. Senator Ben Sasse knows he may be remembered more for his criticism of former President Donald Trump than for the policies he supported during his eight-year tenure.
Sasse spoke to the Omaha World-Herald about his political legacy as he prepared to leave the Senate on Jan. 8 to become president of the University of Florida.
Sasse was a prominent Trump critic who joined a handful of other Republicans to vote to convict the former president in his impeachment trial following the 2021 Capitol riots. This criticism led to Sasse being harshly criticized by his own Nebraska political party, although Sasse voted with Trump 85% of the time and helped get his three nominees for the US Supreme Court confirmed.
Sasse acknowledged that his complicated relationship with Trump will shape his legacy.
Sasse said he is particularly proud of his work with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which included establishing a commission on cybersecurity. He said 120 of that group’s 190 recommendations had been incorporated into the law.
The job at the University of Florida will allow Sasse, who studied American history at Harvard, Yale and Oxford, to return to a much larger institution. Before being elected to the Senate, Sasse ran the small, private Midland University in his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska.
Sasse said he couldn’t resist the chance to head up one of the country’s largest public universities, even after turning down offers from other universities in recent years.
Newly elected governor Jim Pillen will name Sasse’s successor, and the frontrunner for the job is former governor Pete Ricketts, whom Pillen replaced this month after term limits prevented the Republican from running again.
Public universities extend state tuition to Wisconsin, Illinois
SIOUX FALLS — South Dakota’s six public universities plan to offer state tuition to students from Wisconsin and Illinois by next fall.
The South Dakota Advantage Plan has so far educated undergraduate and graduate students from Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming in the state, the Argus Leader reported Dec. 29. The Board of Regents voted to add Wisconsin and Illinois to the list in early December.
Officials at South Dakota’s universities say the move should boost enrollment and result in more graduates staying in South Dakota. Regents said in a Dec. 9 press release that about 30% of nonresident students remain in the state after graduation.
In-state and out-of-state students on the South Dakota Advantage plan pay approximately $253.85 per credit hour at Black Hills State University, Dakota State University, and Northern State University. They pay $259.10 per undergraduate credit hour at the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University and $260.55 per undergraduate credit hour at South Dakota Mines.
Minnesota is not included in the South Dakota Advantage plan because officials controlling public universities in both states agreed in 1978 that Minnesota residents attending a public university in South Dakota would pay the higher rate between tuition at the school, they attend, or pay the average rate for nine schools in Minnesota.