• Rule changes tighten reverse mortgage eligibility

    Reverse mortgages have become increasingly popular in recent years, as cash-strapped seniors seek ways to keep pace with rising expenses — not to mention cope with the pummeling their retirement savings took during the Great Recession.
    But the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) noticed that borrowers increasingly have been opting to withdraw most or all of their home equity at closing, leaving little or nothing for future needs. Consequently, by mid-2012 nearly 10 percent of reverse mortgage holders were in default and at risk of foreclosure because they couldn’t pay their taxes and insurance.
    That’s why Congress authorized HUD to tighten FHA reverse mortgage requirements in order to: encourage homeowners to tap their equity more slowly; better ensure that borrowers can afford their loan’s fees and other financial obligations; and strengthen the mortgage insurance fund from which loans are drawn.
    Here are the key changes:
    Most reverse mortgage borrowers can now withdraw no more than 60 percent of their total loan during the first year. Previously, borrowers could tap the entire amount on day one — a recipe for future financial disaster for those with limited means.

  • Job growth forecast bleak in New Mexico

    Our four bigger cities didn’t make the grade. Neither did our smaller cities.
    The grader was Sunset magazine. Passing the tests would have brought a place in Sunset’s group of 24 “Best Places to Live” in the West that is the magazine’s cover story for the February issue. “We’ve found the ideal city, town or neighborhood for you,” Sunset said proudly.
    Albuquerque did get mentioned — as “the nearest major city” to Durango, Colo. Whoopie.
    A small consolation for me is that Sunset’s city search started with “urban experts around the West.” Such people in my experience come with highly prescriptive notions of what is good (being walkable, whatever that means) and what is bad (cars).
    Consolation aside, we’re not in the game, and that is bad. Nor is much expected to happen any time soon. That’s the tip of the forecasting iceberg from the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (bber.unm.edu).
    Lee Reynis, BBER director, presented the forecast Jan. 16 at the annual outlook conference in Albuquerque. The forecast was titled, “New Mexico Economy: Recent Developments and Outlook.”

  • Amending the Constitution

    Last year, the Legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment, changing one word of the state Constitution. Its purpose is to make it easier to vote in local elections and considerably less expensive for local jurisdictions to hold those elections. The amendment will be on the ballot this coming November.
    The amendment removes the obsolete restriction, written a century ago, that requires school elections to be held at different times from other elections. It changes the word “other” to “partisan.” If it passes, as I fervently hope it does, it will enable local jurisdictions to discuss the possibility of holding school and municipal elections together. It will also offer that option to special districts (such as water and sanitation districts), which get minimal voter participation because most voters don’t know enough about them and they can’t afford to advertise much.
    I am a huge supporter of this change. I wrote about it last July. I mention it now as an example of an appropriate use for a constitutional amendment.
    The only way to change something that is locked in the state Constitution is to amend the Constitution.

  • The Great Recession and long soup lines

    You know your kids are growing up when they ask a question like the one my daughter asked a few days ago, “Hey, dad, do you think we’ll experience a depression in your lifetime or mine?” As much as I’d like to shelter her from life’s unpleasant realities, that question deserves an honest answer.
    How would you answer? Before responding, I thought of the 1930s, the Great Depression, and black-and-white photos of soup lines. “Well, we recently experienced a worldwide Great Recession,” I explained. Thinking about our family expenses, I added, “It feels like we’re still in that recession.”
    “During the 1930s,” I continued, “the effects of the Great Depression, were easily recognizable. But, we don’t see food lines today because the federal government sends food assistance directly to homes in the form of ‘food stamps.’ But tens of millions of people are struggling.”

  • Investing in younger New Mexicans

    “There are many projects that government can invest in, but very few have the real rate of return that investing in early childhood does.” – Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Prize Winner, Economics
    For the first time, New Mexico ranks 50th in the Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT national and state-by-state study to track the well-being of children in the United States. In 2011, 29 percent of our state’s children experienced poverty.
    These are startling and sobering facts. Now more than ever, we need a firm and sustained funding commitment to the children of our state.
    I have long championed the expansion of and funding for high quality early childhood care and education programs (ECE). To that end, and through the support of my fellow legislators we have increased funding for ECE program to the tune of $65 million over the last two years with an additional $35 million proposed in this year’s budget.
    To continue the robust funding strategy, a five-year spending plan has been developed, which would be funded through increased annual funding from the state’s general fund. The spending plan would support a high quality and accountable system of early childhood care and education. The five-year spending plan would amount to an additional $119 million annually for our ECE programs.

  • Birds are up for adoption, too

     When people think of animal shelters being inhabited by homeless animals, dogs and cats are the typically the pets that come to mind. Unfortunately, there are just as many unwanted birds in need of a loving home. Overrun with the more common pets, like cats and dogs, animal shelters often cannot appropriately cater to these abandoned birds’ needs. This is where bird rescue foundations swoop in to save the day.
    “Organizations have taken on this challenge of rescuing unwanted birds and providing forever homes or placing them in pet homes,” said Dr. Jordan Gentry, a veterinary resident instructor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Depending on the organization, there may be strict requirements to meet before even being considered as a bird adoption home.”

  • Aspiring to an anabolic asininity

    I’m not what one would call a big sports fan.
    Big maybe, and getting bigger every year. But certainly not a sports fan.
    And so I found myself confused about all the hoopla over Alex Rodriguez and his use of illegal performance enhancing drugs.
    If your knowledge of baseball is like mine, limited to spitting tobacco and crotch scratching in the outfield, you must wonder why anyone would care what this guy does.
    Rodriguez is the third-base man (or is that third baseman?) for the New York Yankees (the baseball team, not the Civil War guys). Last year, he broke the grand-slam record previously held by Lou Gehrig.
    He’s been called “one of the greatest baseball players of all time.”
    And like Lou Gehrig, Rodriguez achieved his hitting record by ingesting lots of anabolic steroids.
    Oh wait. Nix that. Gehrig did it without the drugs. What a silly putz!
    These days, it’s hard to imagine someone competing in the major leagues without popping pills.
    Synthetic anabolic steroids are readily accessible and many athletes openly admit to taking them. Weightlifting magazines discuss which are the best ones to use (Test, A-bomb, Tren, etc.). You can even buy books on the proper usage techniques.
    It’s easy to understand why steroids are so popular.

  • Simplifying funding search for seed-stage startups

    I’m not a venture capitalist, but I’ve headed up several successful technology startups and recently ran an early-stage software company that raised almost $2 million in “seed-stage” funding. I’m now leading a pre-revenue New Mexico startup raising our first equity-based funding.
    As anyone who has done this knows, raising startup funding in New Mexico is challenging — partially because our state is relatively isolated from the national playing field, but also because of the challenges the New Mexico and broader United States venture capital communities have faced meeting the returns expected by their investors and the VCs’ ability to raise new investment capital.
    The amount of venture capital available has decreased as the initial funding of 8-10 years ago has been fully deployed in startup companies, but exits and positive returns from those investments have so far been relatively few.
    In this climate, it’s challenging to raise seed-stage capital, but there is capital to be raised. Here’s how to proceed:

  • Education is top priority for House Republicans

    As we begin another short budget session, our troubled education system is our greatest cause for concern. As it stands, only about half of our public school students are proficient in math and reading and only half graduate ready to take on college.
    New Mexico now ranks last among all states in student performance. The sad truth is that our public school system is in need of a serious reworking.
    While education spending has increased $700 million over the past 11 years, student performance has gotten worse. It is clear that we need to spend our education funds more wisely. We would like to see education funding going directly into the classroom where it can have a greater impact on our children, not factored into the funding formula in a way that might allow that money to go toward more bureaucratic administration.
    Toward this end, we support the governor’s proposal to spend $55 million in funding on targeted initiatives that will improve these statistics.
    One of the greatest indicators of future academic success is if those students are reading by the third grade. Promoting children who can’t read to fourth grade is a severe disservice to them, and significantly handicaps their ability to progress through their remaining school years in a way that prepares them for a prosperous and successful future.

  • Legislators should ignore noisy bills, focus on bigger problems

    In every legislative session, there are bills with a purpose (whether you agree with it or not) and bills I call noise — the political incendiaries, intended more for show and campaigns. Chances are slim to none that they’ll pass, but lawmakers will burn a lot of time better spent on bigger problems.
    One four-year-old noisemaker is the governor’s driver’s license bill, but this year the Democrats have lobbed their own noisemakers.
    Topping the list is the Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino’s marijuana initiative. The Albuquerque Democrat has pre-introduced a joint resolution seeking a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide the legalization of pot.
    Speaking last week to New Mexico Press Women, Ortiz y Pino said, “It’s a justice issue. We have forgotten the lesson learned from Prohibition.” He reasons that, if the bill succeeds, it wouldn’t go before voters until next November. After that, the Legislature would have to craft a bill.