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Columns

  • Reasons to ban single-use carryout plastic bags

    The United States used more than 100 billion plastic bags in 2009.
    Significant resources are used to create these bags — oil or natural gas are used as the feedstock. And considerable energy is used transporting them to the stores where they are dispensed. The very idea of using scarce and expensive resources on an item intended to be used once, for a few hours, and then thrown away is the antithesis of sustainability.
    These bags are intended to be used once to carry groceries or other purchases to the car, then to the house and then be discarded.
    Many opponents of a bag ban say they make additional use of the bags before disposal. I have no doubt this is true for those people, but the statistics show that most bags are not reused. And even if they are reused, they still go into the trash, where they eventually end up in the ocean, scattered over our landscape, or in a landfill where they do not decompose for hundreds of years, and remain a problem if they ever make their way back to the surface.
    It should also be noted that there are biodegradable products available for all of the uses to which these bags are reused by some. They have to be paid for, but that cost reflects the fact that they are not hard on the environment.

  • Highway finance still is the elephant in the room

    No additional money will appear during the next year or so for construction and maintenance of New Mexico’s roads and highways, barring a special session of the Legislature, an event that Gov. Susana Martinez said March 30 was highly unlikely.
    More money was in the deal that wasn’t a deal at the end of the recent legislative session. The opinions about sources of money were strongly held. No compromise wandered into the negotiations, and so nothing happened.
    The administration and the Legislature again kicked the proverbial can down the, ummm, road.
    The administration wanted to move motor vehicle excise tax revenue (around $144 million, this budget year) back into the road fund from the general fund, which would punch an equal hole in the general fund.
    The road fund, source of construction and maintenance money, is different from the general fund, which is allocated by the budget.
    The administration also figures it is OK to borrow against severance tax revenue, something legislators oppose partly because road construction money was borrowed under the Gary Johnson administration and the payments still eat a nasty piece of the money that is available for roads.
    The Democrats proposed raising the gasoline tax, a move the governor opposes. Nyahh, so there, they said to one another, and the session ended.

  • Fixing roads is better plan than bicyclists' underpass

    The expanse of New Mexico means it is miles and miles from here to there.
    From Farmington to Hobbs, it is 497 miles. Make the ends of the trip be Shiprock and Jal means adding 67 miles. The trek takes some time.
    Bike-walk cultists aside, traveling is done using cars and trucks. A very few fly in private planes or on the heavily subsidized local service airlines. One or two ride horses.
    Much traveling is done just to cross the state. The east-west interstates — 10 and 40 — aren’t owned by trucks. It only seems that way.
    The cars, trucks and their occupants travel on roads. A modestly-encouraging happening of the recent legislative session is that our roads’ terrible and long-ignored financial condition has emerged in public discussion.
    This is the first step to eventually doing something.
    We begin with a digression and reminder: The term “road money” means much more than roads for vehicles.
    At a recent neighborhood association meeting, my representative on the Bernalillo County Commission, Maggie Hart Stebbins, lamented a place where bicyclists must cross a four-lane street by actually crossing on the street rather than having something specially built.
    The situation is dangerous, Hart Stebbins said.

  • Be thankful Legislature is not Congress

    It’s appropriate that our state capitol is round because during the legislative session, it’s a pressure cooker.
    News from Santa Fe about the session’s end is about the blow-ups between the House and Senate, the Senate and the governor, House Republicans and House Democrats. True, unfortunately.
    But consider that on the night before the final day, House Speaker Don Tripp kept his members at their oars from early evening until 2:45 a.m.
    The House went into session the next day at 8 a.m., got an incendiary capital outlay bill at 8:30 a.m. and launched into debate.
    Mind you, this is after days of late nights and marathon committee hearings and floor sessions. You could hear it in their tired, raspy voices and see it in memory lapses and punchy responses — like college students who’d pulled too many all-nighters.
    Only they don’t have the stamina of college students. Some of our elderly legislators simply didn’t attend night meetings and missed even day meetings.
    Is this any way to make laws? Or sausage?
    Next, consider the sea change in the House with its first Republican majority.

  • Foster care system must improve for children placed in state's custody

    Among government’s critical responsibilities is protecting children from abuse and neglect. Our goal in this legislative session is to improve the foster care system for children placed in the state’s custody because their parents are unable, or unwilling to care for them.
    We are co-sponsoring Senate Public Affairs Committee substitute for Senate Bill 115 to help accomplish that. The Senate has unanimously approved the legislation, which will lay a foundation for realigning citizen review boards required by federal law to help oversee the state’s efforts at safeguarding children in foster care.
    Let us be clear at the outset. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure the state’s policies and practices effectively serve children.
    We’ve heard concerns expressed that proposed changes would silence citizen input into decisions about foster children. Rest assured the legislation will not do that. In fact, citizen advocates for improving child welfare can more effectively influence state policies if SB 115 is approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez.
    The legislation is straightforward. It reorganizes an advisory committee to include representatives of the state agency responsible for child protection, the courts, former foster children, as well as members of the public.

  • Real estate loans help business owner promote community health

    Health is a common denominator of Deanna Montoya’s Belen businesses. The Extreme Fitness gym, which she started seven years ago, and the Enchanted Smiles dental practice, which opened in September 2013.
    The lifelong Belen resident operates both businesses, leading Zumba classes at the gym and working as a dental hygienist at Enchanted Smiles.
    Montoya’s passion for fitness is obvious to locals — whether they’re the other instructors she employs to lead spin, rip and circuit training classes at Extreme Fitness — the dentist, receptionist and part-time hygienist who work at the dental practice, or the people who’ve benefited from community fundraisers Montoya has hosted to help pay her neighbors’ medical bills or raise awareness about cancer.
    That enthusiasm was equally apparent to loan officers at Accion New Mexico, the nonprofit business lender that provided the commercial real estate loans that Montoya needed to open the gym and purchase the dental practice.
    “In addition to a deep commitment to running a business and knowing what she was looking for in a commercial property, Deanna’s great character and passion for what she does was evident from the start,” said Justin Hyde, New Mexico market manager for Accion.

  • Dunn Takes Action — Pump Jack To Return

    A politician did something unusual and refreshing a few days ago.
    This was an action, something definite, not the spewing forth of a mumbo-juxmbo fog of words, not the filing of a bill, which indeed is a specific action but one only leading to process upon process.
    Further, this action stands against one of those mindsets created by liberals to better our lives as defined by the liberals’ view.
    I exaggerate some but not much, only in the sense that the action by Aubrey Dunn Jr., Commissioner of Public Lands, started a process that will have a real result.
    For just about forever the State Land Office at 310 Old Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe had a pump jack out front. In case anyone doesn’t know, a pump jack is a device supporting the piston pump drawing oil from a well. A pump jack is — horrors — industrial.
    At some point, the pump jack was replaced by a brick head — a large head made of bricks. The head was part of the state’s public art program, a concoction based on the notion that spotting “art” around public spaces makes us feel better, sort of, I suppose, like painting overpasses. I don’t know when the public art thing started, but it has become part of the woodwork.

  • Working on a plastic bag ban

    When I was 4, we lived on a farm in Maryland. One day, in a weedy pasture where sunflowers grew higher than my head to hide the trash that the locals threw there, and through which ran a drain, that at the time seemed to me a stream, I found in that drain a discarded empty bottle of Halo shampoo out of which spewed bubbles.
    I thought those bubbles were beautiful as they caught, prismed and sparkly, in the weeds at the side of the seep. I called my dad. “Look! Look! See how pretty?” But he came and stopped me from picking up the bottle and told me it was trash and that people shouldn’t litter like that. It took only a moment of training to understand that what I thought was excellent was, when viewed through the maturity of right and wrong, a bad thing.
    It took decades to train us, and laws to forbid it, but nowadays most people know it’s bad to toss trash from the car window, or to casually drop a wrapper, bottle, or McDonald’s bag in the parking lot. Only arrogant kids or ignorant adults litter. Trashing is not something caring people do.

  • Job growth seen at 1.1 percent per year

    For economists, mid-speech applause is unusual.
    Jeffrey Mitchell got the treatment during his talk to the Economic Outlook Conference, presented by Albuquerque Business First, a weekly newspaper. Mitchell is the newish director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico and runs UNM’s forecasting model.
    I suspect that the applause reflected the frustration of the several hundred people in the audience, presumably business types, with the state of the New Mexico economy and the paucity of proposals for real action beyond tinkering at the margin.
    Audience approval came when Mitchell said, “It’s a matter of where we are uniquely strong and build on that.”
    In a post-conference email exchange with Mitchell, I said, “I believe we do not know and/or understand our various strengths and specialness. A detailed look at the state and its various economies might provide insight leading to policy actions that might move us.”
    Mitchell replied, “Perhaps you’re right that we’re not clear on makes the state special. But I strongly believe that any long-term improvement in the state’s economic situation must begin by addressing this question. And I think that people are beginning to recognize this.”

  • Pet Talk: How to properly catch a feral feline

    Feral cats, unlike strays, have been born and raised in the wild, or have been abandoned and must revert back to their primitive ways in order to survive.
    Most of these cats, fearful of humans and too skittish to be handled, often live in groups and take refuge wherever there is available food and shelter.
    Because of this, they are unfortunately subject to harsh weather conditions, starvation, or diseases and sometimes even eradicated by humans in attempts to deplete the feral cat population.
    Here is a few ideas on what you can do to help these undomesticated cats:
    You will be able to tell if you have come in contact with a feral cat rather than a stray by their standoffish and notably quiet demeanor. They will most likely keep their distance from you and scamper off when approached.
    However, this shouldn’t deter you from trying to help.
    Feral cats have a great chance of survival if they live in a group, or colony, maintained by a dedicated caretaker. This means providing regular feeding and proper shelter, as well as spay/neuter services. A popular and effective way to do this is the Trap-Neuter-Return method, or TNR.