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Columns

  • Supporting transparency is good for the economy

    Day in and day out, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is on the front lines, supporting the public’s right to know.
    FOG has been educating, advocating and litigating for transparency and accountability in our government for almost 25 years.
    So what? Why should you care? Isn’t access to public records a game of inside baseball that only political wonks and the press play? If you care about the state of the economy, you should care about open government. It’s not just about transparency and good government. It’s also about jobs and economic development, say a growing number of experts and policymakers.
    Journalists were the first to push for access to public records in the ’60s and ’70s to find out what government was doing and to hold public officials accountable. However, today requests for public records are predominantly filed by businesses, outnumbering requests from the press by three or four to one, according to one nationwide survey.

  • Misconceptions abound on 'Right to Work' issue

    In the wake of the 2014 elections, New Mexico has a unique opportunity to enacted long-overdue economic reforms. The goal of those reforms must be to wean our struggling economy off of an increasingly, unreliable Washington by developing a strong private sector.
    At the top of the agenda is a “right to work” law which, far from being “anti-union” would simply prohibit so-called “closed shop” agreements that require workers to pay union dues as a pre-condition of employment. Forcing workers to pay dues for any organization is simply wrong. Private sector unions can and should exist and they would be better advocates for workers if they actually have to prove they are worthy of membership.
    It is worth noting that 20 of the 24 current “right to work” states have higher private sector unionization rates than New Mexico. In other words, due to the historical weakness of New Mexico’s private sector, these unions have had relatively few members. If New Mexico can strengthen its private sector with “right to work” and some other pro-growth policy reforms, private sector unions could see real growth.

  • Smart tax moves to consider before New Year's Eve

    The flurry of activity during the last weeks of December can make it difficult to pay attention to finances. If you want to save on your tax bill come April, now’s the time to make some critical moves.
    If you have a tax advisor or financial planner, it’s wise to run these ideas by them first. Here are some suggestions to investigate by year-end with follow-up in the new year:
    1. Accelerate your deductions and defer your income. It makes the list every year because it works. To keep your 2014 tax bill low, try to defer bonuses, consulting income or self-employment income until 2015 while taking as many deductions as you legally can in 2014. Deductions may include paying your January federal and state income taxes before Dec. 31, real estate taxes and interest payments.
    2. Bunch non-urgent medical expenses this year or move them to 2015. If you have non-emergency medical procedures coming up, it’s a good idea to pack them into the same year so people under age 65 can exceed the 10 percent adjusted gross income (AGI) minimum for medical expenses. For those over age 65, the AGI minimum is 7.5 percent.

  • Learning to negotiate with suppliers is a business art

    Many businesses rely on suppliers or vendors for inventory, raw materials or services, and that makes contract negotiation skills essential to securing the best prices, terms and product quality. Becoming a skillful negotiator requires a business owner to know what his business needs and can do without and what materials costs are common in his industry. It also requires flexibility and a willingness to compromise — qualities that can lead to a sustainable business-to-business relationship.
    Price isn’t everything: Sometimes getting the best price for a product requires a business to buy in volume or agree to inconvenient delivery schedules. Sometimes it means getting a product of lower quality. Not all businesses can afford this. A lean manufacturer who wants raw materials right when they’re needed on the assembly line might be willing to pay more for this guarantee; for this business, punctual delivery isn’t negotiable. The same is true for a restaurateur who needs regular stocks of perishable goods in time to prepare fresh meals. But a business with lots of warehouse space might get a deep discount by buying in large volumes at irregular intervals.

  • Water experts clash on what’s possible, probable on Gila River

    In the water wars, the latest battleground is the Gila River. Recently, the Interstate Stream Commission voted to take the first step in acquiring more water through a federal settlement. The controversial decision followed a 10-year public discussion in which the stakeholders grew too polarized to agree on any of a dozen options.
    For the record, I can see both sides of this intensely divisive question. Because precedent and money are on the line, not to mention the credibility of the ISC, it’s worth a harder look.
    Ostensibly, it’s water users vs. environmentalists, but it’s also about how diverse residents in the state’s four southwestern counties of Luna, Grant, Hidalgo and Catron see their future. And it’s something of a clash of water titans.
    Through a 2004 settlement, the four counties have the opportunity to obtain an additional 14,000 acre-feet of water a year, a 47 percent increase. It’s enough to supply 24,000 to 40,000 homes annually, provide irrigation water for farmers and keep water in the river for endangered species, according to State Engineer Scott Verhines.
    What community in New Mexico wouldn’t jump at the chance?
    The federal settlement act provides $66 million for water projects or up to $128 million for storage. Cost estimates, however, are upwards of $575 million.

  • Communities may suffer in wake of pension reforms

    PERA’s fund is doing well.
    That’s very good news for you if you are one of the thousands of former state or local government employees who rely on PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association) for all or part of your retirement income. (Disclosure: That includes me.)
    PERA’s assets have almost doubled since the stock market cratered at the end of 2008. The fund now has close to $14 billion, with current earnings at roughly 17 percent. The “unfunded liability” — the projection of how much money will be owed over time compared to what’s available — is still worrisome but going down. This was accomplished in part by legislation in 2013 in which PERA-covered employees and retirees accepted a package of benefit reductions.
    If you’re not covered by a secure pension, you could ask how any of this benefits you or why you should have the slightest interest in the solvency of these programs. It’s a common question.
    Here’s my answer: First, public service work is valuable work, and community’s benefit when people who have expertise in their jobs keep working at them. Second, the whole community benefits when some of its members have stable, secure retirement income.

  • Look local for 'government dependence'

    A government employment number stepped from the shadows recently and got my attention. The number was for local government.
    First, a bit of context.
    States that have a whole lot of federal government spending tend to be states that are home to large expensive activities that are allocated to the feds. This insight comes from a recent report by wallethub.com, a business finance website operated by Evolution Finance of Washington, D.C. (evolutionfinance.com).
    States attracting federal money tend to be border states (New Mexico, Arizona, Montana), located on a coast with big ports (Louisiana), with military, reservations and federally owned land (especially in the West) and national parks. Uniquely among the states attracting proportionally significant federal spending, New Mexicans do research and development on behalf of national security.
    Military personnel are not in the usual non-agricultural wage job numbers. That means Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases, White Sands Missile Range (run by the Army) and the military at Kirtland Air Force, which is unusual in being a multi-mission facility with everything from special forces activity to space research.
    A look at the 13 big job classifications suggests that Pogo had it right when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  • Policy changes to watch for in Republican controlled Congress

    Energy is going to be front and center when the Republicans take control of both houses.
    The past six years have seen taxpayer dollars poured into green-energy projects that have raised electricity rates. Meanwhile, Republicans have touted the job creation and economic impact available through America’s abundant fossil-fuel resources.
    Big changes in energy policy are in the works because a wealthy country is better able to do things right. A growing economy needs energy that is efficient, effective and economical — which is why countries like China and India will not limit energy availability and why Republicans want to expand access in the United States.
    What energy policies should we watch?
    Keystone pipeline
    • Post-election, the Keystone pipeline has suddenly leapt to the front of the lame-duck-legislation line.
    • The question remains whether the White House will approve the bill, though spokesman Josh Earnest hinted at an Obama veto. A veto would further anger his union supporters. With many Democrats already on board and a push for more support from union leadership, the new Congress may be able to pass it again — this time with a veto-proof majority.
    Federal lands

  • Pet Talk: Choosing a dog trainer

    Choosing a good dog trainer is much like finding the right teacher for your child. Assertive but caring, attentive and knowledgeable — there are many important qualities to keep an eye out for when making this crucial decision. In order to choose one wisely, it is advised that dog owners call, interview and observe a trainer prior to hiring them.
    “There are numerous ways to train dogs. In addition, each animal has his/her own learning style and preferred motivators,” said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, or AVSAB, endorses training methods that allow animals to work for things (such as food, play, affection) that motivate them, rather than techniques that focus on using fear or pain to punish them for undesirable behaviors.”
    A good rule of thumb is to avoid any trainer who displays methods of physical force that may harm your dog, including ones who routinely use choke collars, shock collars, or any other physical punishment as a primary training method. Look for a trainer who uses reward-based training with treats, toys and play instead.

  • Pet Talk: Cold weather tips for pets

    As the temperatures begin to drop, many pet owners worry about their pets spending time outdoors. Here are some tips for keeping the four-legged members of your family warm and safe during the winter months.
    For smaller pets, keeping them inside as much as possible during the colder weather can be the most beneficial. If your pet is primarily an indoor pet, this shouldn’t be much of a change. Nonetheless, short exposure to the outside cold can be fine and is usually not detrimental to the pet’s health.
    “Dogs and cats shiver a lot like people. This action is used to help generate body heat in cold climates,” said Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “If your pet shivers while outside, shorten the length of your trips together to help reduce this trembling. Providing extra bedding like blankets and towels will also keep your pets warm and cozy.”
    Signs that your pet is uncomfortably cold may include excessive whining, shivering, appearing anxious, slowing down or stopping and looking for a warm place to burrow. If they begin to exhibit any of these behaviors, you should bring them inside (if outside), or wrap them in a blanket in a warm room.