• Lawmakers antsy about open records

    When is a member of the state Legislature not a member of the state Legislature?
    Have we a nonsense question here?
    Perhaps, but it’s a conundrum with which the Legislature grappled late in the recent session, as it crafted a resolution defining which emails dispatched or received by a legislator should be subject to provisions of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
    Enacted in 1994, IPRA is a variation on the federal Freedom of Information Act, one of many such laws throughout the country designed to foster transparency and openness in the conduct of governmental affairs by permitting citizens access to public records.
    Such laws have been pains in the butts for many elected officials who would rather not have their every action subject to public scrutiny.
    Sarah Palin ran afoul of Alaska open records act while governor of that state when she used her private email to conduct “sensitive” public business and got slapped by her state’s Supreme Court for circumventing the law.
    New Mexico’s Gov. Susana Martinez experienced similar grief after it was discovered that her administration was skirting the state’s IPRA by using private emails, whereupon the she announced that henceforth her staffers would conduct the public’s business via government email accounts.

  • Hooray for the Irish!

    SANTA FE — Happy St. Patty’s Day. May you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.
     Personally I don’t have a drop of Irish blood that I can find, but I’ve always enjoyed their wild and charming nature.
    And I have a newfound appreciation for them after reading “How the Irish Saved Civilization” while on vacation last April.
    No, I’m not making this up. There really is such a book. Thomas Cahill wrote it in 1995. I wasn’t aware of its existence until it appeared under my Christmas tree in 1998.
    I set it aside, figuring it to be one of those “Wit and Wisdom of Millard Fillmore” type books, which I would scan the next time I was in the mood for some silliness.
    My wife was the one who took it on our two-week Hawaiian vacation. We each read a book a day, sitting under a palm tree on our beach.
    About a week into the vacation, Jeanette said, “Jay, here’s a book you’re going to want to read.” I told her to stick it underneath my stack of unread books and I might get to it.
    As it turned out, the book was the right size to slip into my sport coat pocket for the long plane ride home. I hate west-to-east trips and figured I’d enjoy a good laugh.

  • Tax deadlines are real

     Congress could well debate the debt ceiling, tax reform and other important economic issues until the cows come home, but one thing’s for sure: If you don’t pay your income taxes – or at least file for an extension – by April 15, you could be in for a world of financial hurt.

    That’s because the IRS probably won’t give you a break on the penalties it levies on unpaid taxes unless you were the victim of a natural disaster, suffered death or serious illness in your immediate family, or experienced another catastrophic event.

    You must file your 2012 federal tax return (or request an extension) by midnight on April 15, 2013, otherwise the penalty on any taxes you owe will increase dramatically. You’ll be charged an additional 5 percent of taxes owed for each full or partial month you’re late, plus interest, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the amount owed. (The interest rate currently charged is 3.22 percent.)

  • Shooting intellectual blanks

     Wahhhh!  Wahhhh!  Wahhhh!  Quick, someone call the wahhhmbulance!
     Another “misunderstood” NRA member with a 45-caliber mouth and a 14-caliber brain comes shooting out of a barrel of ignorance, whining about my not understanding his side of the firearms debate.
     But before I start slinging stones, let me first say on a very serious note that I am sickened and offended by Mr. Smith’s vile statement that if someone with a gun were to enter my classroom, I would “use the children as shields.”  
    If necessary, I would, like any other teacher in Los Alamos, throw myself in front of a volley rather than risk injury to any students.  He knows absolutely nothing about teachers.
     His idiotic statement is exactly what I would expect from a ditto-head who pridefully labels himself as a “pro-gunner pro-lifer.”
     Pro-gun pro-life?  That’s like saying pro-sewage pro-air freshener.
     I must openly admit, however, that I would consider using Mr. Smith’s head as a shield, if not for the fact that an empty shell provides no real defense against a bullet.
     Look, I see nothing wrong with law abiding citizens owning firearms.  

  • Final day of flurry

    SANTA FE — Noon today marks the beginning of the final day of the New Mexico Legislature’s 2013 regular session. New Mexico’s legislatures begin and end at noon.
    Legislative days also begin and end at noon but that timing is more flexible.
    But noon tomorrow is not flexible. Until the 1960s, lawmakers were allowed to “stop the clock” and allow time well past noon to get business finished. But the state supreme court ruled that our constitution says nothing about clock stopping and that any bills passed after noon are invalid.
    There is no law specifying the end of the 20-day period the governor has to sign or veto legislation.
    So governors play it safe and get all their bill signing done before noon of the 20th day. It doesn’t matter when he vetoes bills because they don’t go into effect anyway.
    Some governors don’t even bother vetoing bills they don’t like. Those are called pocket vetoes and don’t carry any explanation about why the governor doesn’t like the bill.
    As of the beginning of this week, lawmakers had only gotten 10 bills through both chambers and up to the governor.
    One of those bills benefitted the spaceport by limiting the liability of suppliers of parts of space crafts.

  • New Mexico government employees earn more

    As the Legislative session in New Mexico draws close to an end, those at the capitol continue to discuss the issue of compensation rates among public employees.
    The push is on for pay raises and is justified by the fact that the last across-the-board pay raises for public employees was in 2008.
    Surely, it can be hard for any worker to deal with stagnant wages, but before leaping to conclusions and jumping on the wage hike bandwagon, it is worth taking a closer look and saying “relative to what?”
    Wages across the economy have stagnated since 2008 and New Mexico in particular has lost jobs in recent months.
    Given New Mexico’s dismal economic performance, it is important to approach the issue of government employee pay hikes with scrutiny.
    The Rio Grande Foundation has undertaken a careful examination of compensation rates among those in the public and private spheres.
    Our analysis which uses a statistical tool called “regression” found that public employees in fact make more on average than those in the private sector.
    In fact, on average those in the public sphere make 8.6 more in compensation than those in private industry.
    The key factor in this disparity between both groups is simply benefits.

  • Union Pacific Railyard making Santa Teresa an inland port

    Appreciating something very large and flat poses a challenge. Ants always have the problem, but they are used to it.
    The appreciation problem had an extra element the day we toured Union Pacific’s new intermodal facility in Doña Ana County just north of the Santa Teresa port of entry and the Mexican border.
    The wind averaged 48 miles per hour that day with gusts to 60 mph. Dust ensued, much dust.
    Union Pacific is making Santa Teresa an inland port. If the concept sounds murky, remember that a port is where stuff gets shuffled around, much of the time today while still inside large metal boxes we inland types see stacked on rail cars.
    The typical port is on a coast with container ships of ever-increasing size on one side and trains and trucks on the other.
    With an inland port, the concept of moving huge amounts of stuff remains the same but without ships and perhaps with a small role for airplanes added.
    The facility will be a fueling station, a place to change crews and an intermodal ramp for moving goods.
    It is currently UP’s largest capital investment and is the largest construction project on the border, said our host Jerry Pacheco, executive director of the International Business Accelerator (www.nmiba.com) in Santa Teresa.
    Attention to the numbers is appropriate. They are large.

  • Organic food movement still continues to grow

    There’s good news and bad news about the future of edible food in the world and, specifically, in New Mexico.
    One item of bad news is that the New Mexico Senate rejected the bill to require labeling of genetically modified food (SB18, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe), deciding that you don’t have the right to make informed choices about what you’re eating.
    This was a disappointment but not a surprise; New Mexico rarely does well at resisting powerful lobbies.
    The good news is that New Mexico is seeing growth in organic farming and local marketing of farmed products. According to state Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte, organic farming in New Mexico brought in about $53 million in 2011.
    The organic food movement reflects several overlapping themes about healthful food and environmental sustainability.
    Public concern is growing over the long-term safety of genetically altered food, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, the health of the soil, toxic chemicals in the water, humane treatment of farm animals, and even the health of those essential pollinators, bees.
    As the concern grows, so does support for local farmers who choose to grow organic.

  • Time running out for lawmakers

    Three days to go and a thousand bills to cover. That’s a tall order and it won’t be filled.
    At the beginning of this session, when the leadership battle between Democratic candidate Sen. Pete Campos and conservative Democrat candidate Mary Kay Papen was fought, it was explained that the president pro tem of the Senate appointed all the committees. To many, that didn’t seem like a crucial power.
    But it is. The committee chairman can hold a bill in his/her committee for the entire session without hearing it. The old accounting principal of first-in, first-out doesn’t apply. An important bill simply can be ignored.
    Occasionally it gets less simple. Back in the 60s, Fred Foster, chairman of the House Education Committee, grabbed a bill he didn’t like, placed it in the bottom drawer of his desk. Locked the drawer and proclaimed it would never see the light of day. The action really wasn’t necessary but Fred wanted to make a point.
    Sen. Tom Benavides wasn’t even a committee chairman but somehow he got hold of the original copy of a bill, which is the only copy that counts. He got in his car and drove it to Juarez, where it remained for the rest of the session.

  • Sunshine cures what sunsets worsen

    Companies complain that regulations in place to cut pollution are flawed. They complain about rules being clumsy, confusing, redundant, scattered among bureaus, and slow in the process.
    Flaws that companies overlook are the scant resources for inspections and enforcement that is clumsy, scattered among bureaus, and slow in the process.
    To make rules work well, or perhaps end them, companies favor the “sunset clause.”
    A sunset clause is a clause in a regulation that states the rule expires after a set number of years. The idea is to require regulators to re-examine and re-decide each regulation every so many years to keep it current with new knowledge and technology, with other rules and with more efficient methods.
    Making regulations more efficient is good.
    But the devil is in the rest of the story.
    The story begins with the basics of regulation. The system has four distinct steps – rule-making, permitting, surveillance, and enforcement. Agencies issue permits to emit pollutants that comply with set rules. A working system needs efficient inspecting and enforcing to go with permitting.