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Columns

  • Changes needed for outdated Los Alamos County Charter

    On Nov. 4, we will be asked to vote on two questions on the ballot related to the County Charter, a document that was adopted by the voters and that has served us well for many years.
    I am a longtime resident of Los Alamos. I grew up in Los Alamos, have served on a county board and on the County Council, and I have spent quite a few hours of my life since 2010 serving on the Charter Review Committee (CRC), where we went through the current charter very carefully before recommending to the council the changes now before you.
    The people who crafted our current charter, passed in 1968 when Los Alamos was completing the transition from a government-run community to a self-governing, home-rule community, were friends and acquaintances of my parents. They did important work and I respect their efforts.
    However, the time has come to make some changes to the charter and I will support the two questions when I go to polls. The first question, which has to do with the structure of government, goes into a little more detail about the duties and responsibilities of the council chair, specifies that the council chair must be elected annually, and strengthens the recognition of the council chair as the head of the government.

  • Hamburgers and tax policy

    Filet mignon is more expensive than Hamburger Helper. If government imposes a tax based on a measure of dollars, wealthier people pay more. That’s called progressive taxation, and most of us agree it’s the right way to tax. Except when we don’t.
    New Mexico’s tax policy right now is a mess and is primarily hurting local governments, which rely heavily on gross receipts and property taxes. That’s why you are hearing about proposals — for example — to reinstate the gross receipts tax on food.
    When our gross receipts tax covered food, low-income households were protected in two ways. First, the tax didn’t apply to food purchased with food stamps. Second, low-income families received a rebate on their income tax, intended specifically to compensate them for taxes embedded into food and other purchases. If you believed these safeguards worked, the food tax was paid mostly by people who could afford it. Wealthier people who ate expensive food would pay the most.
    But the tax was always controversial. No matter how you try to explain or justify it, taxing food just does not sound good.

  • New book offers substantive, inclusive conservative framework

    Midwestern backyards lack fences. Why the custom is different from the concrete block walls of New Mexico or El Paso’s rock walls, I don’t know.
    Community benefits of the openness include homeowners accommodating one another when choosing a boundary for mowing. Open space allows kids to wander from house to house via backyards. Woods (small groves of trees) might fill the back parts of lots. Paul Ryan had these things when growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, where he still lives, just down the street from his childhood home.
    Ryan climbed the political ladder from junior class president to semi-accidental congressman elected in 1998 at age 28, to Republican policy guru to candidate for vice president in 2012. An important step for Ryan was the decision to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., which became a job with Wisconsin Sen. Bob Katsen, who “was a wonk, which is to say he was my kind of guy,” Ryan said. (All quotes are from Ryan’s memoir and policy manifesto, “The Way Forward, Renewing the American Dream,” published in August.
    That job led to an entry-level position with Empower America, the Jack Kemp-Bill Bennett think tank. The rest, as they say, is history. Kemp’s thinking permeates Ryan. For those who forget, Kemp was kind of an ultimate economic policy wonk politician.

  • In favor of transparent government

    By Democracy succeeds when citizens trust their government. Citizens can only trust their government when it operates in a transparent manner — when citizens can see how funds are spent and decisions are made.
    To achieve transparency, government has to purposefully work to make relevant information available to citizens in a timely manner, in ways that are convenient for them, and in formats that are useful and informative. That means something more than just publishing agendas and summaries, or transcripts of meetings. Local governments that are leaders in this area actively invite an informed, engaged electorate to participate continuously; not just at election time.
    The Los Alamos County government has many strengths in this area. The county website has a fantastic section that clearly communicates the priorities and decisions that are embedded in the county budget. It’s so good that our county routinely receives national awards for it. The LA County Line and other emails available to the public contain information about county events and issues. The Open Forum is a blog that allows citizens to comment on upcoming decisions. Those are all great starts.

  • DOE needs to loosen its leash on labs

    Go local.
    That’s just one bit of advice from the Brookings Institution to the United States Department of Energy on the subject of tech transfer. Those are two sweet words to New Mexico companies and economic developers.
    Brookings recently dinged DOE for the sluggish pursuit of technology commercialization at its 17 national laboratories, including Los Alamos and Sandia. The labs could be key players in regional economies, the report says.
    Could be.
    For decades, reports here have cited the labs as a significant resource, but probably an equal number ask why we don’t have more to show for their presence. To their credit, our two labs have taken steps to work with private industry and universities. We even get a footnote in the report applauding the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program, which gives small businesses with a technical challenge access to lab expertise.
    However, if you’re looking for more tangible results, you’ll be disappointed.

  • Current shared utilities leadership protects us

    A principal argument to justify the proposed restructuring of county utilities is to increase its “accountability,” to its customers, all of us, by fundamentally altering the relationship between the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the Department of Public Utilities and the County Council. Increased “accountability” was rejected by voters in 1966, has proven unnecessary since, and carries great risks. Voters who value their utility service and their pocketbooks should reject it again. This is about control, not accountability.
    The first proposed county charter (basically, our constitution) was rejected in 1966 largely because citizens feared that a political body, the county council, with direct control of utilities could pad their revenues via the back-door path of requiring substantial sums to be transferred from utilities to general county coffers, with resulting higher utility rates or inadequate operating and capital reserves. They also were concerned politicians would tinker with rates and services to favor special interests.
    A completely independent utility presents challenges, too. The compromise embraced by voters in 1968 was the present semi-independent system. It is a work of genius that has served us well for 46 years.

  • Thingamabobs and Whachamacallits

    People adept at Scrabble use some pretty strange words. My wife’s vocabulary is “slightly” better than mine and when we are Scrabbling, I might play a word like “rock” and then she’ll play one like “ozaena.” I’ll challenge her play, claiming that such a word doesn’t exist. She shrugs and tells me that it means having a fetid discharge from the nostrils. That’s usually more than I want to know and so I won’t bother asking her what “fetid” means.
    In the morning, do you wake up with rheum? You know, eye gunk or eye sleepers? Ever get an itch on your popliteal fossa? That’s the indented back of your knee. When you ran track in high school, were you ever preantepenultimate? That means fourth from last. Now there’s a word you can use every day!
    That white half-moon shaped area at the base of your fingernails is called the lunula (as in lunar). When the moon is crescent shaped, do you know what that shape is called? That’s a lune. No, not like your brother-in-law. That’s “loon.” Try not to get them confused.
    If you want to impress your doctor, call that blood pressure instrument by its official name ... a sphygmomanometer. And if you can pronounce it correctly, even better!

  • Latinas: King doesn't need to apologize for 'heart' remark

    It’s the gaffe that wasn’t.
    The latest tussle between gubernatorial candidates is over Democrat Gary King’s paraphrase of a statement by labor activist Dolores Huerta, a New Mexican from Dawson and compatriot of Cesar Chavez.
    At a fundraiser, King quoted Huerta as saying that “you can’t just go out there and vote for somebody for governor because they have a Latino surname. She said you have to look at them and find out if they have a Latino heart. And we know that Susana Martinez does not have a Latino heart.”
    The governor’s campaign pounced on what appeared to be a gaffe. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez even demanded an apology, which is gallant of him considering that the governor treats him like an insect.
    Then Sen. Linda Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat and King’s former opponent, called a press conference with women who had something to say about Latina hearts.
    “I attended the Voices for Children conference as a candidate for governor,” Lopez told me. “She (Huerta) actually said the governor doesn’t have a Latina heart. It resonated with so many people.”
    Lopez also heard King’s statement. “He has nothing to apologize for.”

  • From the bottom up

    This just in: According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, New Mexico ranks 50th among the states when it comes to residents’ access to emergency room service.
    The problem many New Mexicans have in digesting news of this sort is that it is just more of the same. In virtually every category some outfit comes up with for purposes of ranking the states — income, jobs and job opportunities, literacy, child well-being and safety, roads and infrastructure, you name it — New Mexico is always at or near the blasted bottom.
    New Mexicans are no longer shocked by such news. About all they can do when another batch of dismal rankings comes out these days is yawn when they should up in arms.
    Mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore! Mounting the barricades, waving placards angrily proclaiming “There’s nothing beneath the bottom and we’re falling through.”
    We must demand better from our state officials, particularly in the final weeks of a gubernatorial campaign.

  • No political ties at homecoming

    The Los Alamos homecoming parade is coming up. In order not to politicize a beloved community tradition, our local parties have decided not to participate.
    We have also asked our candidates not to have entries (as candidates) in the parade.
    You’ll see plenty of our local candidates talking to people during the parade and some will probably participate in their other roles as active community members.
    While our two political parties don’t always agree on issues, we can agree that Los Alamos is a great community. Both the local Democratic Party and Republican Party want Los Alamos High School students to enjoy their weekend without political signs and overt campaigning in their parade.
    Robyn Schultz, Chair
    Democratic Party of Los Alamos County
    Robert Gibson, Chair
    Republican Party of Los Alamos County