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Columns

  • Spending set at $6.16 billion for year starting July 1

    If it was easy to measure the impact of state government, we would just look up the planned spending for the budget year starting July 1 (FY 15) and say, through our state government, we spend $2,954 for each New Mexican. But we would overlook the $413 per capita spent on roads. The nearly $396 million appropriated for capital outlay (buildings and things) is separate.
    The per capita figures come from totals discussed in the Legislative Finance Committee’s “2014 Post-Session Review” and dividing by our July 1, 2013, estimated population of 2,085,287. Planned spending means the $6.16 billion of what is called “recurring revenue” appropriated through the general fund, the state’s main pot of money for operations. The road spending is via road fund.
    The state does not plan to spend all its income; estimated “total recurring revenue” will be $6.18 billion with the difference going to reserves, which is good because always there is the question of how much will appear. All the numbers including the current budget year (FY 14, which ends June 30) are estimates; estimates change.

  • Standing corrected

    I stand corrected.
    In a column late last March this reporter opined to the effect that “Front-runners don’t finish last.”
    The impetus for this contention was the dead-last finish New Mexico Attorney General Gary King had posted just a few days earlier at the state Democratic Party’s preprimary convention.
    King’s name recognition with New Mexico voters is considerable, I noted. He has been on statewide ballots no fewer than two times. His family has been prominent in state politics going back to the 1960s. He served in the Legislature with distinction for 12 years.
    What’s more, leading up to this year’s state Democratic convention, he was seen as the logical front-runner for the top spot on the Democratic June primary ballot where his competition consisted of four other Democrats who were little known to the rank and file party voters who would be voting in the June 3 primary.
    On top of all that, no New Mexican who had finished last at his/her party’s state convention had ever gone on to win that party’s primary election contest.
    It seemed inevitable, but I now stand corrected.

  • Watch pets around the pool

    School is out, the temperatures are high, and the days are long. For children and pets alike, this makes taking a dip in your backyard pool seem more attractive than ever. Although your children may be competent swimmers, do not assume that your pets are. Preventing pool accidents for your pets takes adequate planning and careful supervision.
    Limiting their access to the pool is an easy and effective way to prevent accidental fall-ins. “A good gate will be the best way to limit pet access to the pool,” said Dr. James Barr, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Keeping the door closed at all times is important for children and dogs alike, as is only allowing them to be in the pool area supervised.”
    Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs are efficient swimmers. This common misconception can be life threatening to your pet. “The dogs that are considered to be brachycephalic, such as English bulldogs, American bulldogs, and French bulldogs, are notoriously bad swimmers,” Barr said. Therefore, it is smart to teach these dogs how to swim and exit the pool safely to prevent drowning.

  • Sgt. Bergdahl and the Fog of War

    The “fog of war” is a reference to the moral chaos on the battlefield as well as the rampant confusion. Individuals kill others for no other reason than that they are ordered to. Things deemed unambiguously bad in civilian life are authorized and even lauded in war. The killing and maiming of acknowledged innocents — in particular children and the elderly — is excused as “collateral damage.”
    No wonder that some individuals thrust into this morass sometimes act differently from how soldiers behave in romantic war movies. The hell of war is internal, as well as external.
    We might remember this as the story of Sgt. Bowe Robert Bergdahl unfolds.
    Bergdahl volunteered for the U.S. military and was apparently a gung-ho soldier. Americans have not been conscripted since 1973, but young Americans are propagandized from childhood with the message that time in the military is service to their country. Few question this narrative; fewer seek rebuttals to it. You have to want to face the facts that governments lie and that the service is to an empire having nothing to do with Americans’ security.

  • Obama administration hides its use of bad science

    President Barack Obama’s pledge to run the most transparent administration was merely a campaign promise and not a statement of management style. We’ve seen a series of highly public scandals — Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS, NSA and now, the VA — where Oversight Committees have fought to pry information out of the Obama White House only to receive stacks of redacted documents.
    Due to court-ordered information provided to nonprofit government watchdog groups in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, it is very clear why the administration wanted to keep specific contents hidden. The White House doesn’t want the public to know the rationale behind the policies that are having a negative impact on all Americans.
    Together the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Clean Air Act restrict access to public and private lands for farming, ranching and energy development, and reduce the availability of affordable electricity — often on faulty or questionable science.

  • Stamping out bigotry

    Tomorrow (June 7) marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Turing’s death. I find it sad that children today know about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, about Pocahontas saving John Smith’s life, and about Columbus discovering that the Earth was round, and yet not one student I’ve ever asked knows who Turing was.
    Incidentally, little George never did chop down that tree. It was an apocryphal anecdote written by Parson Weems, an obscure author in the early 1800s. Pocahontas (who was 11 years old at the time) probably never met Smith, and she was later kidnapped by the English and held for ransom. And mathematicians knew the Earth was round 1800 years before Columbus (Eratosthenes measured the Earth’s circumference in 240 BC).
    So who was this Turing guy and why should anyone care?
    Turing was a British mathematician and logician. His theories on algorithmic design gave birth to a little thing called the computer (Turing is often referred to as “The Father of Computer Science”). His work on cryptanalysis was instrumental in decrypting the German’s Enigma (coding machine), helping to win World War II and saving millions of lives. His work in mathematical biology (morphogenesis — single cell differentiation) was instrumental in modern theoretical biology.

  • Nonprofits in need: Borrowing can be tool for financial stability

    A nonprofit isn’t in business to enrich its shareholders, but it still needs revenues and incurs operating expenses while pursuing its community service mission. It, too, can experience cash flow problems or require considerable cash to fund a capital project, or expanded services.
    When that happens, the nonprofit faces many of the same choices a for-profit business does, though it draws from different funding sources.
    While a for-profit business can offer investors a chance to share in the company’s fortunes by buying stocks, for example, a nonprofit relies on a stakeholder who’s motivated by public interest rather than self-interest. Such unconditional in-kind and cash donations are as sensitive to economic conditions as consumer spending is for profit-driven businesses.
    A cash-strapped nonprofit may decide to live within its means, devoting itself to increasing endowments, grants, special event income, donations, or sales of a mission-related product, or service. But this approach can cost the nonprofit in missed opportunities, and it can divert organizational energy into treading water rather than moving forward.

  • Financial advice for new fathers

    Each year when Father’s Day rolls around, I’m reminded that I wouldn’t trade the experience of raising my two kids for the world. But when I think back to how naïve my wife and I once were about the costs of raising children, I can’t help wishing we’d been better prepared.
    If you’re a new dad, or about to become one, you’d better sit down. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a typical middle-income family can expect to spend more than $241,000 to raise a newborn child until age 18 — and that doesn’t even include prenatal care or college costs.
    Right now, you’re probably more worried about getting enough sleep than funding your retirement. But at some point, you’ll need to plot out a financial roadmap to ensure your family’s future financial security. As one dad to another, here are a few strategies I’ve learned that can help:
    • Start saving ASAP. It’s hard to save for the future when your present expenses are so daunting, but it’s important to start making regular contributions to several savings vehicles, even if only a few dollars at a time.

  • Legislative policy summary: Teacher pay, copper wire, micro school districts

    A mood-setting short statement, typically from a policy person about policy, each year begins the legislative session report from the Legislative Council Service. For the “2014 Highlights,” released in May, a poet, T.S. Eliot, provided the statement, “Between the dream and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.”
    Legislatures and poets deal with moods, uncertainty and mysterious processes. The key word was “shadow.” The council service said an important and obscure technical matter dominated discussions — the degree to which public school money goes to districts to use for overall education or how much is program-specific according to requirements set in Santa Fe.
    Two Democratic representatives, absent due to illness, provided another overlay of uncertainty, a second shadow.
    The Legislature completed its main and constitutionally assigned task of creating a budget for the budget year beginning July 1. Priorities remain, in spending order, public schools, human services, higher education, general government, aka everything else, public safety and judicial.
    The normal budget track starts in the House and, once approved, moves to the Senate. About 40 percent of the time, the Senate starts the budget, as proved the case this year.

  • Drug issues still dominate workers' compensation

    The New Mexico Court of Appeals has supported the use of medical marijuana after a work-related injury.
    The timing was inconvenient. The ruling was announced on May 19. The state’s annual workers’ compensation convention was the previous week. I wish the ruling had been announced a week earlier, so that it could have been part of the conversation at the convention.
    If you had heard what I heard at that convention, you might be cheering about this ruling. Though it is fraught with complications that cannot be minimized, the marijuana ruling is potentially good news. That is, if you believe marijuana is less of a problem than opioids.
    The convention, sponsored by the Workers’ Compensation Association of New Mexico, was all about the opioid epidemic. A few years ago, I wrote that the overuse of opioid prescription medication was becoming a crisis in the workers’ compensation system. This year, the opioid epidemic is established fact and the Number One topic of concern. New Mexico is among the worst states for opioid addiction.