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Columns

  • Richardson Express charges down track

    SANTA FE – What’s Bill Richardson doing these days? The answer is lots. And recently it is the sort of thing that gets you in the Washington Post and on weekend talk shows.
    Last month Richardson took another trip to North Korea. I’m not sure what the link is between New Mexico and North Korea. Richardson has taken several trips there. A top North Korean delegation was Richardson’s first visitors when he took office January 1, 2003. The North Koreans arrived on the 6th, as I remember.
    Former Gov. Dave Cargo was a good friend of the North Koreans, too. After his two, two-year terms, he says he made several private visits to North Korea. I’m not sure we ever knew exactly why but the first time Richardson was dispatched to Korea, Gov. Cargo offered to tag along and introduce him around.
    Maybe the North Koreans are interested in New Mexico because of our nuclear history. Richardson says when he asked them what sights he would like to see, they pointed toward Los Alamos. Maybe they were scouting out the entire area so that they could familiarize future spies. That reportedly is what the Russians have long done.

  • Liberals whine. Conservatives rage.

    Listening to a particularly inane discussion in a Senate committee one recent day, I caught myself thinking, “Geez, they sound like a bunch of whining liberals.”

    Yeah, I know. That will surprise a few people. Not the whining but my response.

    The subject was the new constitutional requirement that Public Regulation Commissioners have more education and experience. The whining, from people I usually consider intelligent, was about how the requirements might be unfair to somebody. By that logic, we’re all qualified to be judges, too. I’ve written before that this commission must make difficult decisions based on hours of technical testimony. Voters agreed by a large margin, and yet some of these people were prepared to ignore voters’ wishes.

    Whiners surfaced again during a House floor debate of a measure to study the possibility of a humane slaughter and processing facility as a remedy to the state’s thousands (yes, thousands) of unwanted horses. What we heard was an hour or so of hanky wringing about how much everyone loved horses, interrupted by bursts of reality from ranchers, who also love horses.

  • Session smooth at midway point

    The Legislature is now in full swing. Committees are hearing many bills. Some now are reaching the floor and sessions are getting longer. But it will still be almost a month before the pace gets frantic in the final week of the session.
    The first bill to reach the governor’s office for a signature always is the “feed bill,” which finances the session. No one gets paid until that is signed.
    An early bill to reach Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk may be the informed consent bill that controls the liability of suppliers. The present tenant, Virgin Galactic already is covered but the two year delay in getting coverage for others has meant that Virgin Galactic still is our only tenant, and an unhappy one. It expected a bustling scene with many other space companies flying out of there.
    In order to try to keep Virgin from alleging breach of contract, the bill it wants was introduced the first day of the session and may be to the governor’s desk by the time you read this.
    Trial lawyers are taking a big hit for the two year delay. They don’t like to see liability limited. Gov. Martinez has to shoulder her share of blame for not keeping the project going at the same break-neck speed of the previous governor. Chalk that up to a steep learning curve.

  • Beware happy dogs

     In Tennessee, an imbecile of galactic proportions surrendered his male dog to a shelter because the dog was humping another male dog.  This candidate for dumbest person of the century said “My dog is gay!  I refuse to own a gay dog!”
     Seriously, how much stupid can some people fit into one head?
     Bad enough to be a flaming bigot, but to also be freakishly stupid is a sad thing indeed.
     Fortunately, not everyone in Tennessee has a single digit IQ. The dog was adopted by a loving owner and given a new name, Elton.
     And so Elton was spared euthanasia.  Sadly, so was his previous owner.
     Commenting on Elton’s rescue, William Donohue, President of America’s Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, protested bitterly that saving Elton’s life was evidence of pro-gay bias.  Isn’t it sweet that he would take the time to complain that someone saved the life of a dog?

  • Jumpstarting the economy and Dumbo's feather

    Minimum wage debates this year may eliminate the need to heat the state capitol.
    Albuquerque voters just voted to increase the minimum wage despite a vigorous campaign against it, and the minimum in Santa Fe is above $10.
    There Republicans count businesses that have closed or departed and Democrats count increased job creation.
    Before I put on my hip waders, let me first admit that I always have mixed feelings on the minimum wage.
    On one hand, in a battered economy, I wonder what mythical pot of gold these new wages are supposed to come from.
    On the other hand, there are moms and dads working two jobs to pay the rent, and their paltry wages make possible the low prices we enjoy in stores and restaurants.
    Personally, I’d rather pay more for my burger and know that the server is herself served.
    Let’s also recognize that an increased minimum doesn’t have a universal impact. Astute business people already pay better wages to hang on to their good employees.
    The law falls on others who for various reasons don’t. We have this fight with each increase, state or national.
    Proponents and opponents draw their pistols and fire data at one another, and eventually the new minimum is accepted.

  • The county budget: A balanced approach

    It became clear in December 2012 that our net county tax revenues for fiscal year (FY) 2013 would be about $9 million less than initially projected.
    We can make up half of that shortfall by economizing on county operations.
    The county has maintained reserves of 25% of yearly revenues, about $15 million, to deal with such problems.
    So why not go ahead with our original spending plans, and just dip into reserves for the other half of the shortage?
    The answer is that this is potentially not a single-year budget problem.
    Estimated revenues for the next few years are at best flat, so a substantial part of this year’s shortage is likely to continue.
    Going farther into reserves in coming years would put us at a serious disadvantage if revenues drop still further.
    Federal sequestration cuts, or a federal deficit-reduction deal that involves unknown spending cuts, are quite possible.
    The national security and science roles of LANL will not disappear, but we can’t assume that the Lab will be immune to the budget pressures on all parts of government.
    Some re-evaluation of our county’s spending priorities is clearly in order.
    In 2012, the county council made plans to spend $33 million over the next four years on eight new Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs).

  • Must-have insurance plans

    Many people adopt a “penny wise, pound foolish” mentality when it comes to buying insurance. When trying to lower expenses, some will drop or reduce needed coverage, gambling that they won’t become seriously ill, suffer a car accident or fall victim to a fire or other catastrophe. But all it takes is one serious uncovered (or under-covered) incident to potentially wipe you out financially.
    Here are insurance policies no household should be without:
    Medical. This is the most critical – and unfortunately, the most expensive – coverage you need. When comparing plans, consider:
    Are your doctors in their provider networks? If not, can you afford out-of-network charges – or are you willing to find new doctors?
    Are your medications covered under the plan’s drug formularies?
    Do they restrict specialized services you might need like maternity, mental health or weight reduction treatments?
    If you choose catastrophic coverage to lower premiums, can you afford the high deductible in case of an accident or major illness?
    Homeowner/renter. Faulty plumbing, theft and home-accident lawsuits are only a few catastrophes that could leave you without possessions or homeless. A few tips:

  • NM likes its permanent funds

     SANTA FE – New Mexico is very fortunate to have two large permanent funds socked away for a rainy day. In the eastern states most land is privately held. By the time the Western states were settled, the government was keeping large chunks for federal, state, county and municipal purposes.
    Much is desert land but much is good for grazing or has oil and minerals under it.The revenue from those lands goes into what is sommonly called the State Land Grant Permanent Fund. Each entity gets its share. Public schools get the revenue from sections 2 and 32 of each 36-acre township. Part of that money is then transferred to the aappropriation amounts for the various governmental units.
    These funds were helpful in getting schools started as the School for the Visually Handicapped and the Deaf Shool.
    Back in the early 1970s, New Mexico was experiencing a very healthy economic boom. Severance taxes from oil and gas companies were flowing in at record rates. The mines near towns such as Santa Rita, Carlsbad and Questa also were doing well.
    So the Legislature and Gov. Bruce King created a second permanent fund, which they named the Severance Tax Permanent Fund. Previously severance taxes were used to finance the budget. That fund began growing to a size approaching the original Land Grant Permanent Fund.

  • Seven percent tax stopping jobs

    In New Mexico, innovation is literally moving at the speed of light. Over the last several decades, laboratories, working with private industry, have led the way in developing new “directed energy” technologies. My own company, Fiore Industries, has built microwave systems that can disable the engine of a speeding car and neutralize Anthrax in packages. We’re turning science fiction into science fact.
    As directed energy technologies take off over the next two or three decades, New Mexico stands to create hundreds of new high-skill jobs and billions of dollars in new investment when the manufacturing starts.
    The only thing standing in the way of this enormous economic growth is New Mexico’s sales tax, which makes it too expensive for the government to award the contracts to local companies.  Known as a gross receipts tax, New Mexico’s sales tax adds a seven percent charge to all directed energy manufacturing.
    That’s unusual because states are technically forbidden from taxing the federal government directly. A gross receipts tax skates past this rule by taxing the contractor, not the government.
    I’ve seen the impact firsthand. Several years ago, my company won a contract to develop the early modeling for a new directed energy system.

  • County fiscal crisis is an opportunity

    “Never waste a good crisis” goes the saying. Sadly, it often takes a crisis to force overdue actions. The county budget shortfall is such an opportunity.

    The county government’s fiscal challenge is real. The revenue bubble it has enjoyed the six years since LANL started paying gross receipts taxes is deflating. Neither the lab’s mission nor its political support in Washington are as strong as they were for decades. The lab is not going away, but its size and strength are declining.

    Our failure to focus on diversifying our economic base means we are not replacing the meaningful jobs being lost at the lab or the income they produce — to the community and the county government.

    So far, the county government’s reaction to the “sudden” (actually, long-foreseeable and avoidable) crisis has been predictable. Council, trying to avoid hard decisions, hopes things will be better next year. Staff is understandably trying to avoid losing jobs and changes in business practices.

    Most “solutions” proposed are also predictable and generally more appropriate for a short term crunch than a long-term sea change, e.g., draw down reserves, reduce travel, postpone capital improvement and maintenance projects, and borrow more.