• A cautionary tale about earmarked funds

    “I’d like to explain to you about the Subsequent Injury Fund.”
    I used to joke that this sentence could clear a room. If you were the host of a party and your guests weren’t getting the hint that it was time to leave, you could mention the Subsequent Injury Fund and they’d be gone like a shot. I actually did this more than once.
    Even the name invites confusion. Subsequent to what? Injured when? No wonder hardly anybody paid attention.
    The Subsequent Injury Fund has been gone since 1996. I tell the story now because it’s a cautionary tale about earmarked funds. In case you didn’t notice, a few major issues in the recent legislative session, such as the early childhood education proposal, involved earmarked funding.
    The New Mexico Subsequent Injury Fund (SIF), like similar programs in many states, was a workers’ compensation program, established to encourage employers to hire workers with physical disabilities. These programs were started after the Korean War to help injured veterans.

  • 2006-2013: Government jobs up, then down

    Scads of state economic numbers new to me crawled from the darkness a few days ago.
    The numbers omitted government, so first, using other numbers, we will consider the performance of our leaders in weaning the state from the dark dependence on government jobs.
    The Department of Workforce Solutions is the source of the government figures. An entirely arbitrary choice, Octobers from 2006, 2011 and 2013, provide the comparison. The numbers, for wage jobs, are revised and seasonally unadjusted.
    Overall government employment declined during the period. The total, 197,400 in 2006, grew 1,700, or 0.86 percent, by 2011 and declined 4,000, or two percent, to 195,100 two years later.
    The federal sector, by far the smallest of the government employers, more than explains the changes. Federal employers hired a net of 2,300 people, a 7.6 percent increase, between October 2006 and 2011. Federal employment dropped 9.2 percent to 29,700 between from October 2011 to 2013.
    Federal employment runs about half of the state government total and less than a third of local government. All governments do different things. Geography bounds the activity.

  • Column As I See 'Em: Let’s lend a hand to our top teacher

    Let’s start things off on a positive note before getting into a letter we published earlier this week in which a county councilman explains why it was appropriate for him to crack an ethnic joke while speaking with high school students, among other things.
    Carolyn Torres, a third grade teacher at Chamisa Elementary, is this year’s New Mexico Teacher of the Year. With that title comes the requirement that she travel around the state and nationally to represent New Mexico.
    Doing so isn’t cheap, and the assistance she receives from the school district (per diem, etc.) is terrific but, as anyone who has done much traveling will attest, that money only goes so far and often doesn’t cover the hidden costs associated with such travel.
    I spoke earlier this week with Principal Debbie Smith, who is actively seeking financial support to help make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
    As we have reported, some have already made donations, but we’re hoping that sweetening the pot a bit might spark even more.

  • Legislation of key issues a go, but still more work to do

    As Benjamin Franklin once said, “You may delay, but time will not.” These words ring true as I reflect on the 30-day legislative session and what we were able to accomplish as individuals and a body. While a 30-day session has its challenges, time mainly being the biggest hindrance, I am proud to report I was able to secure passage of three pieces of legislation and aide in the passage of key education reform legislation to shore up our lottery scholarship solvency crisis and increase funding to our public education system.
    This summer, a task force I served on, found a growing trend of state bids being oriented towards out of state companies. After working with both private industry and labor to fix that problem, I sponsored House Joint Memorial 11 that guides state and county governments to give in-state businesses the opportunity to bid on government contracts rather than focusing on out-of-state contractors. This bill was an important step to help protect our contract workers that serve Los Alamos National Laboratory and I worked tirelessly to ensure its passage in both the House and the Senate.

  • Disciplining Toto


    Toto, you’ve been a bad little girl. In the Land of Oz, I would punish you by making you listen to a bunch of Munchkins sing, but we’re back in Kansas. So now, I suppose I’ll just have to beat you senseless.

    Whack! Just remember that disciplining you is a sign of love, OK? Whack!

    OK? Toto? Ah, damn it! Uh, anyone know how to resuscitate a dog?

    Kansas is an interesting state.

    The Kansas State motto is “Per Aspera Ad Astra”, meaning “To the stars through difficulty.” It’s ironic that Kansas would use Latin for its state motto. Back in 2007, the Kansas House and Senate passed bill H.B. 2140, making English the state’s official language.

  • Dems gamble at casino on candidates

    This coming Friday evening, delegates to the 2014 state Democratic Party’s Pre-Primary Convention will gather at the ballroom of an Albuquerque area casino-hotel to schmooze, booze and politic until schmoozing, boozing and politicking have ground them to their knees.
    The next day they convene in formal session and get down to the business of deciding which of the Democratic candidates seeking various offices up for grabs at the November election will top the party’s June 3 primary election ballot.
    We’re talking serious business here. Political tacticians maintain that a candidate whose name comes first on a ballot has an edge over his/her opponents whose names appear further down the line.
    It doesn’t guarantee victory for the person at No. 1, but it does means he/she will probably pick up a few extra votes simply by virtue of ballot position. Cynics will tell you it simply goes to show that some voters are given to mindless voting. Nonetheless, candidates routinely hanker for the top spot. Which, when all the speechifying and bombast are spent, is what Pre-Primary Conventions are all about in New Mexico.
    The candidates who garner the most delegate votes at the convention for nomination to the sundry offices at the June 3 primary election will have their names listed first on the ballot.

  • Change law on reviewing school superintendents

    There has been plenty of hand wringing over the past several days as the taxpaying public searches in vain for answers why its popular school superintendent suddenly resigned.
    One of those taxpayers, Morrie Pongratz, rightly questioned the school board Tuesday night, saying that the public deserves to know what led to this situation.
    That would be the ideal situation but unfortunately, state law allows school boards to review superintendents behind closed doors, allowing board members to say whatever they choose in private and never having to reveal publically their individual opinions or thoughts on the superintendent’s performance.
    Oh, following the review, the board will release a milquetoast summary, which purposefully doesn’t capture individual criticisms or concerns and focuses instead on blanket, unattributed statements that rarely if ever give taxpayers a true assessment of what each board member truly thinks.
    To further complicate the issue, because that process occurs in secret, board members are then forbidden to discuss with taxpayers exactly what was said and by whom.

  • UNM-LA housing proposal not fair

    Editor: We believe it is appropriate to explain our position on the pending rezoning of the apartments owned by UNM-LA on 9th street. A more detailed version of this letter can be found at lamonitor.com.

  • Protecting kids isn't just about funding

    Sen. Clemente Sanchez wanted to do something about child abuse and its watchdogs in the Children, Youth and Families Department. From his wife, a former social worker, he heard two words: case load. Our underpaid, overextended social workers can’t monitor each kid in a way that might have saved Omaree Varela from the allegedly brutal treatment of his mother.
    Five bills in the recently completed legislative session focused on CYFD, but only one passed, an indicator of both complexity and the distance to consensus.
    Sanchez wanted a limit of 15 cases, which might require another 22 hires. The Child Welfare League of America recommends 12 to 15 children per social worker; the average in CYFD is 12 to 20.
    His fellow Grants Democrat, House Speaker Ken Martinez, introduced “Omaree’s Law,” which would have required CYFD to immediately take custody of a child with injuries consistent with abuse. If abuse was proven, the child would stay in custody until the parent received professional counseling.
    CYFD argued that in fiscal 2013 it received more than 21,000 reports alleging physical abuse. The bill would have the unintended consequence of overwhelming not only CYFD, but the courts.

  • 2012 to 2013: Not appreciably different

    The newest numbers reporting changes in the New Mexico economy start with 5,000, drop to 1,000, jump to 3,000 and return to 1,000.
    The things that changed come with six or seven digits, meaning that the changes aren’t much. We know that, you say. The changes are positive, which is something.
    The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released the figures Feb. 28. The report provides the annual averages for 2012 and 2013 of the employment status of the civilian non-institutional population 16 years of age and over. This group is what we consider when talking about employment. Under 16 doesn’t count.
    Non-institutional means not in jail or some other institution. Civilian means non-military, which leaves out more New Mexicans than we might think. One Internet source indicated 13,000 service personnel in the state.
    The big number — that 5,000 — is the change in the potential working population from 2012 to 2013. It grew from 1.59 million to 1.595 million. Our population grew by a smaller figure — 1,747 — during the year to become 2,083,540 in July 2013, says the Census Bureau. The numbers come from different sources, so speculating on the reason for the difference between population and worker group growth likely is just that — peculation.