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Columns

  • Middle class has shrunk for awhile

    When we were house hunting, the Realtor told us there was great demand for high-end homes and starter homes and a lot less need for those in the middle, so we had quite a selection.
    That was 1999 and my first hint that the middle class was in trouble.
    Candidates have made the middle class a hot campaign issue, so I went looking for information. It was hard to find anything not tainted with political spin.
    A 2011 study from the leftish Center for American Progress catalogued the Romney-Ryan budget’s hit on programs relied on by the middle class. New Mexico, for example, would lose $30 million from highways in 2013 alone.
    From the right, a Forbes article last week blamed blue states’ tax policies for their ills. Both studies are notably shallow, their conclusions predictable.
    Economists and politicians agree that the middle class is squeezed, but discussions tend to fit in sound bites and bumper stickers.
    Last week, the news website GlobalPost.com published an ambitious portrait of the endangered middle class, “America the Gutted,” that gathered all the threads – trade policy, automation, globalization, business trends, consumerism, and tax policy. I divine a little attitude, but for the most part the stories are balanced and don’t endorse any candidates.

  • Benefits, breaks aid military, families

    As we honor our armed forces this Veterans Day, let’s also acknowledge the financial challenges they and their families often face, both while in service and after discharge.
    Fortunately, service members needn’t go it alone: Many tax benefits, social services and financial assistance programs are available to help.

    Special tax benefits for active duty personnel include:

    •  If you move because of a permanent change of station, you may be able to deduct unreimbursed moving expenses.
    •  If you serve in a combat zone for any part of a month, any military pay you received during that month is not considered taxable income.
    •  You can also include nontaxable combat pay as “earned income” when claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit for low- to moderate-income earners.
    •  Deadlines for filing tax returns, paying taxes, filing refund claims and taking other actions with the IRS are automatically extended for qualifying military members.
    •  Joint tax returns generally must be signed by both spouses. But, when one spouse is unavailable due to military duty, you may use a power of attorney to file a joint return.

  • Asian countries trying democracy

    SINGAPORE  —  Here we are in the tropics again.
    This time we’re halfway around the world — about as far from home as we can get. It is hot, 95 degrees, and humidity sometimes reaching 100 percent, and without rain.
    It will cool as we head north to Japan.
    I’ve done a little reading. We have attended some excellent lectures onboard and have taken all the tours available. So any of you who have read more than two books or been here more than once may be far more knowledgeable than I. Let me know if I am too far off.
    Countries in this part of the world have experienced tremendous political change in the past century as empires around the globe shed or lost their colonies. Some have done well. Most haven’t. Democracy has been an unfamiliar concept.
    Thailand, which we visited first, is a constitutional monarchy. It has had 17 different constitutions in the past 16 years.
    It currently is experiencing what is termed a delicate peace. It is peaceful enough that the cruise line we are sailing felt it sufficiently safe for us.
    Rand McNally readers recently voted Bangkok the most interesting place in the world. We disagree. It still is New Mexico.
    Then it was down to Singapore, 60 miles from the equator.

  • Voter suppression in N.M.

    About a month ago news broke that a group of New Mexico Republican functionaries had undertaken training sessions for poll challengers who were being equipped, as the online journal Salon.com put it, “with false information about election law that could be used to suppress voting rights” at the Nov. 6 election.
    It’s a disturbing story of some dubious political shenanigans right here.
    Seems the group even created its very own “poll challenger guide,” whereby its trainee-challengers could discover ways to make voters show their IDs at their polling places and to vote by provisional ballots, contrary to state law.
    The skullduggery was revealed in an undercover video recorded by the non-profit organization ProgressNow NM at a Sept. 26 official training session conducted in Albuquerque. The training session was reportedly conducted by Tea Party activist Pat Morlen who is the Sandoval County GOP vice chairperson.Within a week or so, state Attorney General Gary King announced that his office was investigating the affair and “exploring available sanctions against those found guilty of voter suppression tactics.”
    “I will not tolerate voter suppression efforts by anyone, period!” King said.

  • The Candyman can

    SANTA FE — Former Rep. George Buffett makes the list as one of New Mexico’s most colorful politicos. Buffett, who died recently, wouldn’t particularly appreciate being called colorful or a politico but that is part of why he was colorful.
    Buffett was as conservative as they come. He was conservative in all things. He introduced few, if any, bills during a session. When he spoke on the floor of the House, he was stingy with words. He didn’t appreciate legislators appropriating money to projects in their own districts. He didn’t do it himself and he voted against members of his own party doing it.
    His independent streak was part of the reason Buffett never served in a leadership position in the Republican Party despite his 24 years in the Legislature. The average tenure of a Republican legislator in New Mexico is much shorter than 24 years.
    Buffett said the quick in-and-out is because it isn’t as much fun always being in the minority and never getting to be a committee chairman. He pointed to the large number of Democratic retirements when Democrats lost the majority in Congress.

  • Vote up or shut up

    College is defined as “an institution or self-governing body of higher learning.”  As such, one might expect the US Electoral College to have something to do with higher learning.  Or perhaps expect it to somehow be associated with intelligence.
    One would be wrong to expect that.
    The U.S. Electoral College isn’t a place.  It’s an irrational election process embedded into our Constitution that proves that the Founding Fathers enjoyed a drink now and then (and then again).  It reads something like this:
     “If a complex n-manifold has algebraically independent meromorphic functions, does its covariant derivative define a Riemannian metric?”
     Hmm, nix that.  That’s an obtuse math question.  But it does read far more clearly than our constitutional Electoral College’s process.  I encourage you to wade through the Constitution’s text and read the 12th Amendment.  Fair warning — wear thick boots.
     And so here we go again.  For a brief moment (not brief enough), our nation of 314 million people stops arguing about sports teams.  Citizens stop arguing about who should win Dancing with the Stars.  They stop arguing about whether Bubba the Love Sponge really said all those nasty things about Hulk Hogan.

  • Why 'fix' Ashley Pond

    Recently, I have received questions from members of the public regarding an upcoming project to make improvements at Ashley Pond Park.
    This is a project that has been in the county’s capital improvement program for more than two years, however, with so many projects going on inside the county, it’s easy to understand that some residents may not have heard about all of the various aspects of the project, or why it is so desperately needed. I’d like to try and explain the project and elaborate a bit on how we got to where we are today.
    If you’ve been to Ashley Pond lately, you’ve probably noticed the serious issues with water quality that have emerged. The pond is in the early stages of eutrophication, which stated simply means that the pond is dying due to lack of oxygen.
    There were likely many contributing factors, including overabundant fish population, inadequate recirculation of water, and pollutants conveyed by the collection of storm water runoff. Regardless of the cause, the only way to fix the problem at this point is to drain, dredge and rebuild the pond.

  • Rural areas plagued by poverty

    After World War II, national defense provided the biggest economic boost. But today, the rural areas farthest from the metro areas struggle under century-old burdens of limited educational opportunities and substandard infrastructure, among other challenges. Those rural counties near cities or with natural amenities have tended to hold their own.
    Rural counties are plagued by what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “persistent poverty.” Residents of rural areas “earn substantially less” than metro residents.
    Sound broadly familiar? It should.
    But if this summary of rural economic problems doesn’t quite sound like New Mexico, that’s because the description is of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and parts of three other states, the territory served by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The description is in “Wanted: Jobs 2.0 in the Rural Southeast,” in the current issue of EconSouth, a publication of the Atlanta Fed (frbatlanta.org).
    For New Mexico the article provides a useful summary, the type of overview we seldom get. It is close enough, overall, to provide insight, allowing for differences. With our double dip recession in place, we should take insight where we can find it.

  • In the voting booth with PRC

    New Mexico is trying to fix utility and insurance regulation yet again. New Mexico’s  Public Regulation Commission (PRC), created in 1996 to replace the previous, dysfunctional State Corporations Commission and the appointed Public Utilities Commission, has suffered its own dysfunction. So now we are voting on three proposed constitutional amendments (Amendments 2, 3 and 4), intended to fix the PRC.
    To be informed on these proposals, you must do more than simply read the ballot.
    The ballot contains only a sentence briefly describing each amendment, taken from the title of the legislation. That leaves a lot to your imagination. If you want to know what you are voting on, here’s some homework.  
    The Legislative Council Service (www.nmlegis.gov/lcs) has prepared a detailed online publication describing the PRC, explaining the amendments, offering arguments for and against, and copying the full text of all the amendments (if you can’t find the publication, use your search engine).
    I recommend it. The League of Women Voters has briefer arguments in its voter guide.  
    Amendment 2  proposes to require qualifications for future PRC commissioners. The presumption is that commissioners who regulate something as complex as utilities ought to have prior knowledge or experience.   

  • Don't forget amendments, bonds

    You’ve probably decided by now how you’re voting on candidates at the top of the ballot, but how about farther down? Here are a few thoughts on some of those.
    Changes to the state Public Regulation Commission, long overdue, are in Amendments 2, 3 and 4, and deserve our support.
    Amendment 2, to increase qualifications and require continuing education for commissioners, is particularly important. Currently, the state doesn’t even require a high school diploma.
    Candidates in District 1 and a few sitting commissioners oppose this amendment. That’s because they know squat about utilities, energy, rates or any of the other complex issues that come before the PRC.
    As somebody who’s sat through rate hearings, I can say there’s nothing worse than watching inept commissioners pretend they understand technical language and issues and then stumble toward a decision. New Mexico has urgent business, and we don’t have time for on-the-job training.