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More proof we have good schools

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By Ralph Damiani

In the midst of the current bond election there is some solid proof that we are producing some first-class students.

In the current edition of U.S. News and World Report, where they rank high schools across the nation, three New Mexico schools were honored with silver medals.

And Los Alamos High was one of those.

In the report, “America’s Best High Schools,” more than 21,000 high schools were evaluated.

They were graded on student performance and how well the schools prepare students for college.

Besides Los Alamos, Taos and La Cueva were honored.

No high schools in New Mexico earned a gold medal.

The report states that 16 New Mexico high schools received bronze medals. They include schools in Animas, Clayton, Cliff, Des Moines, Fort Sumner, Hagerman, Reserve, Roy, San Jon, Springer, Tatum, Texico and Tularosa.

The Albuquerque-area schools that were honored included Eldorado High, East Mountain Charter High and Career Enrichment Center.

This only confirms what we already knew, that we have a great high school and great school system.

However, it is clear that the facilities are deteriorating and that if we hope to maintain this level of excellence – and even move up to a gold – then we need to act now to upgrade our facilities and modernize our schools.

Just another reason to support the bond issue.

Water flow

According to the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque, the water run-off rate this spring is looking good.

For the Rio Grande here, the flow at the Otowi Bridge between March - July is forecast to be 915 AF, with the 30-year average beihg 757.

Looks like a good flow in the rivers again this year - and the snow season is not even at its peak yet.

Ethics

An interesting topic at this legislative session will be ethics reform.

With the governor and many former officials facing ethics questions, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Right now there are two former state treasurers in federal prison for public corruption.

Former-Senate leader Manny Aragon is headed to jail for his role in a courthouse construction kickback scandal.

A federal grand jury is investigating pay-to-play allegations involving the awarding of state work to one of Gov. Richardson’s political donors.

State investigators are looking into alleged misuse of money at a regional housing authority run by a former legislator, and how federal election money was spent by a former secretary of state.

There are more.

Attorney General Gary King and Gov. Richardson say they support limiting campaign contributions and establishing an independent commission to investigate alleged ethical violations.

New Mexico is among a handful of states allowing campaign contributors to give any amount to candidates for state office. Another measure would ban legislators from lobbying their colleagues in the Legislature for a year after leaving office.

As far as this goes it is good. But some stronger legislation would not be unwarranted.

The proposed contribution limits and the ethics commission have failed in past legislative sessions, but they may have a better chance this year because of recent disclosures about pay-to-play and corruption investigations.

Legislators object to an ethics commission because they say the House and Senate independently can handle ethics complaints involving their members.

Let members of the Legislarute know how you feel about these issues.

Health care

Another hot topic will be social services. Like other government programs, they face spending cutbacks because of the more than $450 million budget shortfall. Slightly more than one in five New Mexicans lack health insurance.

More than 400,000 New Mexicans, many of them children, receive health care through Medicaid. Nearly $3.5 billion in federal and state money pays for Medicaid.

This is a huge expense. The Legislative Finance Committee proposes reductions of $8 million, or about 1 percent, for Medicaid this year.

To help erase the budget shortfall, about $24 million in general taxes for Medicaid would be replaced with other money this year, such as revenues the state receives from a nationwide settlement with tobacco companies. Lawmakers and Richardson expect the state to get more federal money for Medicaid from an economic recovery package under consideration in Congress.

However, it’s uncertain how quickly the state will receive such aid.

The proposals for universal health coverage, including a plan by Richardson, have failed in the past. Opposition hasn’t softened and the state’s budget woes make it more unlikely lawmakers will agree to a significant health care expansion that could add to the state’s budget in the future.

But lawmakers and the governor sat they will try to protect Medicaid from deep spending cuts.