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Columns

  • Sing the body electric

    I love a good movie, especially one that relies more on acting and less on special effects.
    In particular, I love how some movies manage to capture the raw essence of the human condition in a single scene. Sometimes, that condition is warped or contorted with human greed and hatred. Sometimes, it’s mandates tears from the audience as the actors transcend the boundaries of love and tenderless.
    And sometimes it’s just a hoot to sit back and enjoy the slapstick shenanigans of a good funnyman.
    The other day, I happened to catch the end of the 1980 movie “Fame” on TV. The graduating class of the New York High School of Performing Arts performs a finale, singing and dancing to an interpretive rendition of a Walt Whitman poem.
    I sing the body electric. I celebrate the me yet to come. I toast to my own reunion, when I become one with the Sun.
    I sing the body electric. I glory in the glow of rebirth. Creating my own tomorrow, when I shall embody the Earth.
    Seriously, how can you listen to lyrics like that and not marvel at the potential of individual achievement? The fame these students thirsted for was not public recognition or money or power. They were reaching for the stars, to become a light to shine upon others.

  • Rules of engagement: Start with plan for social media outreach

     New Mexico residents turn increasingly to digital resources when seeking out all types of information. According to the most recent (2013) annual Garrity Perception Survey, New Mexicans use television as a news and information source 58 percent of the time, newspaper 39 percent of the time and Internet news sites 29 percent of the time. Those sources are followed by radio (28 percent), Internet blogs (17 percent) and social networking sites (17 percent).
    When Internet news sources, blogs and social media are combined, New Mexico residents turn to digital sources 63 percent of the time, surpassing television. Having an active presence in digital media gives an organization relevance.
    A business’s digital outreach can be as simple as a basic retail website, or it can cover multiple bases with a Facebook page, Twitter account, interactive blog and email marketing. Deciding how far to go with social media technology depends on the business type, available resources and how digital outreach fits into the company’s strategic plan and vision.

  • Self-employed? Use these tax-filing tips

    Calculating income taxes is a royal pain, even when your situation is uncomplicated enough that you can file a 1040EZ Form. And if you’re self-employed, be prepared for extra layers of complexity. Not only must you file an annual return with numerous additional forms and schedules, you’re also responsible for paying quarterly estimated taxes, which can mean having to write a pretty hefty check while waiting for your clients to pay their overdue bills.
    Add in that you’re also responsible for funding your own health insurance and retirement, and you may start to miss having an employer manage a portion of your financial affairs. (Although many people go into business for themselves precisely to call their own shots.)
    Here are a few things to remember when calculating your 2013 taxes:
    First, some potentially good news for taxpayers who claim a home office deduction: You now may choose between the traditional method of calculating the business use of your home (which involves numerous calculations, filling out the onerous IRS Form 8829 and maintaining back-up records for years) and a new simplified option.

  • Gas Company, customers will benefit from TECO acquisition

    There has been relatively little publicity about the application pending before the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) for TECO Energy to acquire New Mexico Gas Company.
    However, approving the application, which has been pending since July 9, 2013, will bring many benefits to the state.
    TECO Energy, based in Tampa, Fla., is a large utility holding company with more than $7 billion in assets and a strong credit rating. It has been in the utility business for more than a century and has an exemplary record of providing excellent gas service and a reputation for safety practices that has earned it recognition for excellence by the American Gas Association. TECO has been a driving force in Florida in leading economic development efforts and intends to do the same in New Mexico, which could contribute significantly to our economic recovery.
    TECO has been successful in helping businesses convert to natural gas vehicles that if its successes can be replicated here, would be a boon for New Mexico’s economy and environment. Natural gas vehicles are a new focus for the Farmington area, which is rich in this plentiful resource. This could be an incredible opportunity to further this industry while jumpstarting the Four Corners’ area economy.

  • EDD update: Bits, pieces, old theaters

    Anyone thinking that the state Economic Development Department has much significant to do with developing the economy should promptly drop the notion. The standard rhetoric aside, such thinking is an illusion.
    Start with there being a whole separate department devoted to tourism, a fair piece of the economy.
    Someone not knowing the name of the department but curious about the state might find the state website, newmexico.gov, the “official state portal.” A bit of looking at the site would lead to the lower left corner and a headline, “business resources,” with six subheads including “business assistance, economic development, job training incentives program.” I clicked on all six subheads, but connected with just two. My 2008 vintage MacBook Pro just wasn’t good enough.
    Newmexico.gov had several topic headlines flashing by. One pitched, as an upcoming event, the 2012 state centennial. Carpe ayer? Boxes in the middle posed questions. “Are you a visitor? Are you a business? And, best of all, “Are you a citizen?” offering a guide to living in New Mexico. Non-citizens don’t count, apparently.

  • Doctor shortage and federal policy

    Why is there such a serious shortage of doctors in New Mexico?
    A bit of good news: The basic cause is not anything inherently wrong with New Mexico. It’s tied up in the complications of medical regulations and funding.
    A group of speakers from New Mexico Health Resources Inc. recently described the background of this situation and what they are doing about it. NMHR is a nonprofit dedicated to recruiting and retaining physicians in New Mexico, especially underserved areas. The speakers were Jerry Richardson, executive director; Kevin McMullan, health professional recruiter; and Dr. Frank Hesse, a founder and former board member of NMHR who is also former chair of the now-moribund New Mexico Health Policy Commission.
    The undersupply of doctors nationwide, they said, traces to a federal commission called the Council on Graduate Medical Education. This commission was founded in the 1930s, when the nation had an oversupply of doctors. A quota was established for the number of medical residents. Today, the training of medical residents is largely subsidized by Medicare. The quota sets the number of residents in each teaching hospital that Medicare will support. It also sets the allocation among specialties.

  • State spurs job-saving development

    Roswell officials knew the city needed a new railroad spur if it hoped to save jobs in local industries dependent on rail shipping and to stimulate job creation in emerging industries. Occasional derailments underscored the risk of using the old Burlington Northern tracks, which didn’t meet the weight and gauge requirements of modern railroad cars.
    But building industrial infrastructure is expensive — more than the city, the railroad, or the rail-dependent businesses could afford on their own.
    So the city launched a public-private partnership to upgrade and modernize the rail spur in a way that benefits the entire community and allows more public access to the privately owned tracks.
    Empowered by New Mexico’s Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) and the availability of funds appropriated to the New Mexico Economic Development Department for the LEDA-Capital Outlay program, the city submitted an application requesting $100,000 for the project and matched that amount with city funds. It also engaged Xcel Energy and Southwestern Railroad to contribute $70,000 in labor to repair and expand the city’s tracks.
    The result is a modernized facility that city officials are confident will raise Roswell’s profile as a regional hub for rail shipping.

  • Transferring funds overseas just got safer

    If you’re among the millions of United States residents who each year send tens of billions of dollars to family, friends or foreign businesses overseas, here’s good news: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently instituted new rules governing international electronic money transfers to better protect consumers against hidden fees and improve dispute resolution policies.
    CFPB was given oversight over international money transfers as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Up until then, federal consumer protection rules did not apply to most “remittance transfers,” whose exchange rates, processing fees and taxes often vary widely and can be hard to decipher.
    Here’s an overview of the new remittance transfer rules:
    In general, most foreign money transfers for more than $15 sent by money transmitters (like Western Union and MoneyGram), banks, credit unions and other financial services companies that consistently send more than 100 international money transfers annually are covered.

  • Incredible 31 percent of N.M. budget derived from oil, gas

    Thanks to the show “Breaking Bad,” many Americans now realize that they don’t need passports to visit New Mexico. We surely appreciate the publicity. But New Mexicans have reason to be even more grateful to another industry.
    The New Mexico Tax Research Institute (NMTRI) recently released the study, “Fiscal Impacts of Oil and Natural Gas Production in New Mexico.” It’s impressively researched, including detailed county-level analyses. The results show that absent the tremendous financial impact of the oil and gas industries, New Mexico would be a far different, poorer state.
    NMTRI found that 31.5 percent of the state’s General Fund revenues — the primary source of funding for state public schools and higher education — come from taxes paid by the oil and natural gas industries. The General Fund also pays for state public welfare programs, environmental protection, tourism advertising and support, road construction and maintenance, and many other functions of state government.

  • Moving needle, leveling playing field

    As I write this, House members were still nose-to-nose, haggling over the budget, and the Senate had begun the process. How is it, you might ask, that the two parties are stalled on what amounts to 1 or 2 percent of the total budget?
    The education arguments by now look like deep ruts in a dirt road, the kind that wheels and water keep following because it’s difficult to do anything else. We’ve heard them in countless meetings, newspaper commentary, and legislative hearings. So I wasn’t expecting the House floor debate to be much different, and yet there were some points made that bear repeating.
    House Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, reminded everyone that the state’s financial underpinnings are oil and gas, but hanging our hats on oil prices is precarious because the horizontal drilling and fracking that increased production here have increased production everywhere else. Supply and demand could tilt prices against us.
    Employment growth in the state is inching along at 1 or 2 percent, so increasing the budget 4.8 percent doesn’t seem prudent to him.
    Worthy arguments.