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Columns

  • Monthly job losses resume despite mining boost

    Revised job numbers for 2013 show even less growth than first reported. After the statistical one thing and another, the Department of Workforce Solutions says wage employment grew an average of 0.6 percent during the year. That’s down slightly from the 0.7 percent original estimate.
    The big part of the 2013 change came because of changes in the 2012 numbers, what DWS called “significant upward revisions” for the fourth quarter. Since job growth during the fourth quarter of 2013 wasn’t much, the 2012 changes meant a higher base for comparing 2013 against 2012 and, in turn, meant the 2013 performance became a decline. Putting it another way, initial reports last year showed job growth rates dropping during the second half of the year. After the revisions, the real situation appears to be economic stagnation and not crummy numbers.
    Two months ago, this column shared the Jan. 16, 2014, forecast from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico. That outlook called for 1 percent wage job growth in 2013, 1.4 percent in 2014 and 1.6 percent in 2015 and 2016. At the time, the year-over-year job growth (through November) was 0.2 percent.

  • Questions still linger despite another year for superintendent

    Column as I see ’em …
    It was certainly nice to see the school board and its superintendent kiss and make up Thursday night when the board gave Gene Schmidt a one-year contract extension.
    That doesn’t mean, however, that a myriad of questions still don’t exist about their not-public-enough quarrel over the past six weeks or so.
    Nor does it explain some comments made during that quarrel by the school board president and a promise that has yet to be fulfilled by the board secretary.
    For those just joining this soap opera, Schmidt turned in his resignation following a closed-door performance review that resulting in him saying he no longer had the support of the full school board.
    Being that the board has the (questionably) legal authority to vet the superintendent in private, the public immediately began demanding answers, including who among them no longer supported the person credited with a host of accomplishments during his tenure.

  • Keep an eye out for items toxic to pets

    As caring pet owners, we are typically well aware of the various dangers that threaten our furry friends’ safety. Keeping their vaccinations up to date, making sure they are properly groomed, and providing them with the most nutritious food to ensure good health are just a few things that we tend to with the utmost importance. However, numerous pet-poisonous items commonly found around our households are often overlooked and can be detrimental to our pets’ lives.
    A large variety of household plants, foods and chemicals that are considered safe for human use are toxic to our pets. Some of the most dangerous plants to keep out of your pets reach include any flowers in the lily family, including sago palms, oleander, foxglove, castor bean, and poinsettias. Though these are bad for both cats and dogs, the toxic dose often differs between species.

  • Travel by air … part of our infrastructure

    In April, we will celebrate the one-year anniversary of re-established commercial airline service between Los Alamos Airport and Albuquerque’s Sunport.
    Many of you may recall that, last November, I voiced my support for this new service to remain operational until September 2014 by voting with five of my fellow councilors to approve a flight subsidy of $365,000 from the county’s general funds.
    In case you missed that Nov. 5 council meeting where air service was discussed — the infusion of cash was needed because early predictions that ridership on the nine-passenger Cessna Caravan (operated under contract by New Mexico Airlines) would be at or above six passengers were simply too optimistic.

  • What's love got to do with it?

    We have a rather delicate problem in our neighborhood. A couple who live down the street from my house want to get married. Now, I have no problem with “those people” living in my neighborhood. I don’t know them, but they seem to be decent enough. The problem is … well, their lifestyle isn’t exactly what many of us view as ... normal. If they want to live together, that’s OK with me, but why do they have to get married?
    They’re Presbyterians. Yeah, I know what many people would say to me. What right do I have to prevent Presbyterians from getting married? Well, first of all, you have to agree that if we allow them to get married, the next thing they’ll want is the right to adopt children or even to have one on their own. What next? Buy a house? Get a dog? It’s disgusting!

  • Symbiotic success: Incubator and its tenant companies grow together

    When Allan Sindelar joined the Santa Fe Business Incubator in 1998, both his company — Positive Energy Solar — and the incubator were in their infancy.
    Sindelar had previously made his living as a freelance carpenter and had several years’ experience designing and installing solar electrical systems. He had no background in starting and running a business.
    The incubator, meanwhile, had just opened in a 10,000-square-foot building with barely enough room for eight or nine tenant businesses. Its founder, Marie Longserre, aimed to make it an environment that nurtured entrepreneurial impulses and connected startup owners with essential resources and training.
    As the incubator’s second tenant, Sindelar’s success and that of the incubator evolved in tandem.
    Positive Energy, which graduated from the incubator in 2005, reported revenues of nearly $10 million last year and expects to double that this year. The award-winning company has 55 employees in three statewide offices.
    In that same time, the incubator has tripled its square footage and helped launch more than 140 businesses, said Longserre, its president and chief executive officer. “We have grown physically, in our reach, our offerings and our affiliations.”

  • New mortgage rules can protect against risky loans

    Good news for people shopping for a mortgage — and for current homeowners facing foreclosure because they can no longer afford their home loan: New mortgage regulations drafted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently took effect and they provide a slew of new rights and protections for consumers.
    One of the cornerstones of the new mortgage rules is that lenders now are required to evaluate whether borrowers can afford to repay a mortgage over the long term — that is, after the initial teaser rate has expired. Otherwise, the loan won’t be considered what’s now referred to as a “qualified mortgage.”
    Qualified mortgages are designed to help protect consumers from the kinds of risky loans that brought the housing market to its knees back in 2008. But obtaining that designation is also important to lenders because it will help protect them from lawsuits by borrowers who later prove unable to pay off their loans.
    Under the new ability-to-pay rules, lenders now must assess — and document — multiple components of the borrower’s financial state before offering a mortgage, including the borrower’s income, savings and other assets, debt, employment status and credit history, as well as other anticipated mortgage-related costs.

  • Consider TFR to prevent LANL's possible downfall

    When I look around the lab, I have this sad feeling that Los Alamos National Laboratory is dying a slow death. Every year, the budgets get smaller and the most notable activity is legacy clean up. I can’t help but think that once the waste is gone, the powers that be may very well just decide to shutter the place.
    Money is tight, New Mexico has one of the smallest congressional voting blocks in the nation, and there really is no reason to think that there will be future continuous funding for a non-essential, politically incorrect facility that is lacking politically significant backing. Here to date, the lab survived because of the perceived national security importance and the political seniority of Senator Pete Domenici. However, the dependence on nuclear weapons is giving way to precision ordnance and we lack a senior senator. A reasonable person would be concerned about the lab’s future funding.
    What the lab needs and what is the principal duty of the lab’s director is to advocate for a national mission that is so compelling, both because it is necessary and beneficial, that it is able to garner congressional support in spite of budget constraints and competing national laboratories.

  • How do you like your water?

    Do you drink your tap water? If not, why not? Is fluoride, perhaps, one of your concerns?
    Many cities add fluoride to their water supply because it strengthens teeth. The controversy is over what else fluoride does that is not so desirable.
    There’s a fluoride war in Albuquerque right now. The Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority is proposing to put fluoride back into the water supply after removing it a few years ago. Passions are high.
    While the Albuquerque issue is local, the fluoride question affects all communities.
    According to Rudy Blea, of the Office of Oral Health in the state Health Department, the following communities have adjusted water systems to accommodate the appropriate levels of fluoride: Chama, Cimarron, Cuba, Estancia, Farmington, Los Alamos, Milan, Pecos, Raton, Ruidoso, Santa Fe, Santa Rosa, Springer, Taos, Villanueva and White Sands. These communities add supplemental fluoride to naturally-occurring fluoride to bring the level up to an accepted standard. Other communities don’t fluoridate, either because naturally occurring fluoride levels are high enough, or because they choose not to.

  • Bring telecom regulation into the 21st century

    We need better broadband access and infrastructure in New Mexico, especially in the rural areas. This year, the Legislature took a big step forward with a bill to spend $50 million over five years to bring broadband to schools statewide.
    The Democrats are congratulating themselves for this success, and they should. But they can’t congratulate themselves for the state’s backward attitude toward telecommunications regulation. Telecom is the flip side of the same coin. It’s one reason neighboring states move forward, while New Mexico remains stuck.
    Senate Bill 159, which the governor signed, allows the state to buy hardware for schools to link to the Internet. It’s a real plus for education.
    Senate Joint Memorial 4 got less attention. It creates a task force to study what role the state should play in building broadband infrastructure so that all New Mexicans have access to a broadband network.
    Political reporter and blogger Steve Terrell has been throwing cold water on legislative memorials as a waste of time and paper, and I mostly agree with him. Memorials can also provide the information and arguments to support future legislation.