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Columns

  • On tax day, see the big picture

    It’s tax time again and that means pundits will trot out the stale claim that some Americans don’t pay any taxes and assert that the beleaguered rich are stuck paying more than their fair share. But when you look at the whole tax system you see a very different picture.
    While some Americans don’t pay federal income tax (mainly because they earn poverty-level incomes), virtually everyone pays some form of tax. And most taxes (especially at the state and local level) hit the working poor and elderly hardest.
    The omnibus tax bill New Mexico’s Governor just signed will make that injustice even worse.
    The federal income tax is progressive—meaning those who earn the most pay the highest rate.
    It’s designed this way because most state and local taxes are regressive—meaning those who earn the least pay the largest share of their earnings in these taxes.
    State and local sales and excise taxes are examples of regressive taxes.
    Those who earn very low incomes have to spend a greater percentage of it on necessities, many of which are taxed (like clothes, diapers, toiletries, etc.).
    High income earners don’t spend all of their money, so sales taxes take up a much smaller share of their income.

  • Basic financial literacy essentials

    Business owners don’t need a degree in accounting, but they do need to know how to read basic financial statements and when to ask the accountants who prepare them to explain what they don’t understand.
    No one wants to be like the business owner who believed she was making a profit because her checkbook had a positive balance. But even business owners who diligently record financial transactions using basic accounting software don’t always comprehend the reports their CPA generates based on these records.
    That means they’re not using the expertise they pay for, and they’re not using the numbers as tools to build their business.
    The three financial reports every business owner should understand are the profit and loss statement, the balance sheet and the cash flow statement.
    Profit and loss: The P&L, or income, statement shows how much profit a company makes — or doesn’t make — over a given period. The statement reports revenues, expenses, gains and losses. If a positive balance remains once expenses and losses are subtracted from revenues and gains, the result is net income. If the balance is negative, the statement shows a net loss.

  • Workers' Comp. according to law

    The following is a real message (slightly edited, name changed) that I sent to a friend who owns an insurance agency:

  • How financially literate are you?

    I’m not sure whether it was intentional or merely a coincidence that several years ago Congress proclaimed April to be Financial Literacy Month.
    April is also the month when millions of Americans grimly write a check to the IRS and resolve to do a better job managing their money; and when millions of others squander their tax refund without realizing why receiving overly large refunds isn’t sound financial management.
    In recognition of 2013’s Financial Literacy Month, the National Foundation of Credit Counseling just released the results of its seventh annual Consumer Financial Literacy Survey, which tracks Americans’ attitudes and behaviors related to personal finance.
    NFCC spokesperson Gail Cunningham said, “On a positive note, by certain measures a large percentage of Americans do feel they’re getting a better handle on controlling their finances,” she said. “On the downside, however, many people give themselves poor grades on their knowledge of personal finance, and worry that they’re not saving enough for a rainy day — or for retirement.”
    Here are some of the survey’s key findings:
    • Forty percent of adults have a budget and closely track their spending. In other words, 60 percent don’t use a budget.

  • Forest Service needs reform

    Driving to Ruidoso after the Little Bear Fire last year, we passed a meadow brimming with hay bales about to become mulch on burn-scarred land.
    Up north, Santa Clara Pueblo officials figure it will take $100 million and 100 years to restore Santa Clara Canyon after fire devastated half the watershed.
    The average westerner is relinquishing the notion of our forests as a pristine resource and getting used to the reality of an overgrown, parched and buggy tinder box, dangerous as a warehouse full of old dynamite.
    We don’t lack for solutions. In fact, there are so many loud voices, that’s part of the problem.
    Another is that policy makers don’t recognize that the real cost of these fires goes beyond firefighting.
    Those are two points made by the nonpartisan, nonprofit National Institute for the Elimination of Catastrophic Wildfire.
    Its organizers and supporters are retired forestry professionals and firefighters.
    In a nutshell, the institute sees a federal Forest Service that’s paralyzed by a dense patchwork of conflicting laws, decisions made by political appointees with no experience on the ground, poor morale, under-staffing and budget cuts. The fires grow bigger, and the funding grows smaller.

  • Lotspeich: Three-time owner of Copper Flat

    George Lotspeich may be the only New Mexican to make the cover of “Inc.” magazine. The occasion was July 1981. Lotspeich was CEO of Cobb Resources, a uranium company.
    “Inc.’s” annual list of the fastest growing small pubic companies then tallied the top 100. Cobb Resources was number one with 366,567 percent five-year growth—from $2,993 in 1976 to $11 million in 1980. Though interesting 32 years later, the Inc. list and Lotspeich’s cover appearance are not the concern here.
    Lotspeich has always been in involved in various things—gold and manganese starting in the 1950s, oil, copper, uranium. The Copper Flat property, along N.M. 152, west of I-25, may be the most various in that Cobb owned the property three times and sold it to developers. Twice he got it back. He hopes now to be done. “It’s got a better chance now than it has in a long time,” said. That chance comes from Themac Resources Group Limited of Vancouver, B.C. (http://themacresourcesgroup.com), and Themac’s subsidiary, New Mexico Copper Corp. of Albuquerque.

  • Bliss on tap

    “Ignorance is bliss,” they say. Well, if this is really true, we have a lot of happy people in this world.
     When using a credit card at a grocery store last month, the clerk handed it back and said she couldn’t accept it because it wasn’t signed. That was very responsible on her part. Cards are signed to provide security.
     So I took out a pen and signed the card. Then she accepted it and ran it through for the purchase.
    Ah yes, I do love security procedures.
    A few weeks ago, we celebrated Pi Day. I was telling someone about how one can estimate pi by tossing rods across a set of parallel lines and counting the percentage of times they cross the lines. I then mentioned how the Otowi bookstore did this last year by having children toss hot dogs across a grid.
    The man asked me, “So, is that how they compute pi?”
    Uh, yeah. Yes, that’s right. They do it with hot dogs. Lots of hot dogs.
    Like I said. A lot of very happy people out there.
    Rudolph Zallinger’s classic picture of the ascent of man shows an early primate walking, standing more and more erect, his head lifting ever higher toward the heavens. My theory is that as man’s head was elevated, the increased altitude reduced the oxygen level to the brain.

  • Honoring the Rio Grande del Norte

    On Tuesday evening, more than 10,000 New Mexicans joined a telephone town hall meeting with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), local community leaders, and the Sierra Club to celebrate President Barack Obama’s recent decision to permanently protect the state’s Rio Grande del Norte region as a new national monument.
    During the hour-long event, Senator Heinrich and Congressman Luján were joined by Questa Mayor Esther Garcia, Mora County Commissioner John Olivas, and Rivers & Birds Executive Director Roberta Salazar for a discussion of what the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument means to New Mexico. New Mexicans participating in the call also had the opportunity to ask questions and get more information about the designation.
    “I would like to thank the New Mexico Sierra Club for hosting a virtual town hall meeting to connect with thousands of constituents across the state to celebrate the designation of our new national monument,” Heinrich said. “The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is a prime example of what can happen when local communities, businesses, sportsmen, tribes, elected officials, land grant heirs and others come together to build a brighter future for all New Mexicans.”

  • The wonder of Rio Grande del Norte

    Almost 30 million years ago, in what is now Northern New Mexico, two of our planet’s ever-shifting plates, the North American and the Pacific, crunched up against one another, causing a dramatic separation in the earth’s crust through which in time a great river would flow.
    Today that separation in the earth’s crust remains spectacular, and we know it as the Rio Grande Gorge, named for the river that runs through it, sometimes ferociously, sometimes serenely.
    To drive through that canyon is to drive through one of this continent’s beautiful and breathtaking wonders.
    Last week President Barack Obama used the powers vested in him by the Antiquities Act of 1906 to make it the “Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.”
    Corks were popping and hands were clapping from Taos to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., as the President signed a proclamation adding some 240,000 acres of Northern New Mexico, all the way up to Ute Mountain near the Colorado border, to the roster of national monuments.
    It was an especially poignant moment for New Mexico’s recently retired U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who was present for the White House signing ceremony.
    Bingaman has long championed national park or monument status for the area. “This is a great day for New Mexico,” the former senator said.

  • Dawn nears for smart regulation

    Regulation, government-style, begs for modern methods of limiting bad side effects.
    Yet a new concept cannot spread far unless it has a name. To urge change, this column introduces the new terms “integral regulation,” “built-in inspection” and “smart regulation.”
    Of necessity, regulation and civilization grew up together. Early societies expanded slowly, from isolated bands to tribes to city-states. Methods of regulating evolved as slowly as civilization.
    Regulation began with simple peer pressure, which evolved to tribal traditions and later into early religious themes.
    As time crept on, the need for regulation led to governments and politically-set rules.
    Technology enters the story. Technologies first were used as they came. The unwanted side effects is that a technology can have become more evident to more people as the technology gains more usage in more places.
    In our time, the side effects have come to be examined and judged in a set forum, such as an agency hearing with lawyers, technologists, interested spokesmen of all kinds and the government that is in office.
    By such means, a regulation is shaped to limit the harmful side effects. Meanwhile, the pace of technical innovation quickens. Quicker tools emerge quicker.