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Columns

  • Political follies roll on in D.C.

    SANTA FE — If there is anything that can make the New Mexico Legislature look good, it is the follies going on in Washington, D.C.
    Both groups share one commonality. There’s a lot of talk but not much is going to get done.
    In Santa Fe, House Democrats can stop Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s meager agenda. Senate Democrats also are the majority party but some of those Democrats have joined with a united Republican party and it appears that coalition is going to be able to stop anything Democrats want to get to the governor’s desk.
    To demonstrate that politics is equal opportunity, the situation in Washington is reversed but the partisanship is unchanged. A Republican House and a Democratic Senate that requires a 60 percent vote instead of 51 percent means little can be accomplished in that body.
    Congress came back to do a little work this week but will spend most of its time fighting. By Friday it has to figure out how to avoid the big boulder it put in its road, called sequestering. They won’t let it happen because that cuts everything equally, which means too many pet projects get hurt.
    Congress will waltz around that boulder, somehow, only to run into the expiration of a continuing resolution that runs the government out of money.

  • Soliciting comments

    The N.M. DOT held an open house on Feb. 20 to solicit comments on the latest conceptual design for N.M. 502.
    This might be the last opportunity for public comment on the major features of the road. I didn’t count, but I’d guess there were roughly 50-75 people in attendance. That seems like a pretty small sample on which to base a decision that affects everyone in Los Alamos (though less so for White Rock residents).
    I think the single design feature that most determines the nature and quality of the road is the proposed roundabout at Central and Trinity.
    For me, the biggest single question associated with an artery like Trinity is, “How easy is it to get from where you are to where you would like to be.” From this perspective, a roundabout is a poor choice. Here are the reasons.
    The roundabout proposed is somewhat like that installed at Diamond and San Ildefonso. It is a hybrid, with some aspects of a single lane roundabout and some portions that will behave like a two-lane roundabout.
    However, there are some important differences between the two intersections. First, the traffic is somewhat heavier at Central and Trinity. Second, the traffic pattern is very different. This makes a significant difference in the efficiency of travel in different paths, as well as for access by pedestrians and bicycles.

  • Compromise is not a four-letter word

    We’ve passed the mid-point of this 60-day legislative session. Time to “evaluate” the new leaders. Weighing in were Joe Monahan, one of the state’s most popular political bloggers, and El Paso Times reporter Milan Simonovich.
    Monahan has consistently painted Senate President Mary Kay Papen as a conservative who will sell out the Dems to appease the governor, but Papen describes herself as a fiscal conservative who is liberal on many other issues.
    For some reason, the political hounds gave House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, a little honeymoon before finding him wanting.
    Martinez’s offense? His willingness to compromise, a sign of weakness in the minds of some. Monahan pronounced Martinez wimpy, and Simonovich jumped in with this: “Martinez is either the biggest underachiever at the capitol or New Mexico’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He vacillates between coddling fat cats and protecting the most irresponsible people ever to lace up a pair of work boots.”
    Martinez has made it clear from day one that he intended to listen and to work with his political adversaries. “Compromise is not a bad word,” he said recently.

  • Tying up some loose ends

    SANTA FE — I have written on several occasions about the misdirected wrath aimed at the National Rifle Association for enriching itself as a result of the introduction of gun control legislation in Congress and probably every state legislature. 

    The NRA was created to be the lobbying and political action arm of the gun manufacturing industry. 

    Everything it does is perfectly legal and it includes gun safety courses an other public service projects. 

    Many industries have such organizations. 

    Years ago when I was representing school employees, I was standing in line at the Secretary of State’s office to register our organization when a good friend ahead of me registered New Mexicans for Better Roads. 

    I mentioned to him that I never had heard of that organization. He replied that since the state had some surplus money that year, the word was that road improvements would be a likely recipient. 

    So highway contractors had hired him to help channel as much money as possible into the state road fund. And why not improve your image by calling the entity New Mexicans for Better Roads? It doesn’t really have any members, he said. It’s just an old trick. 

  • Hiring a tax preparer

    The U.S. tax code grows more complicated every year and currently spans thousands of pages – even government experts can’t agree exactly how long it is. So it’s not surprising that millions of Americans hire professional tax preparers to complete their returns.

    Relinquishing the onerous task of calculating your taxes to a professional may save you time and give peace of mind – they know more about tax law than you do, right? 

    But remember: You’re still legally responsible for all information on the return. 

    So if the preparer makes a mistake or intentionally defrauds the government, you’ll be on the hook for any additional taxes, interest and penalties – even possible prosecution.

    The IRS notes that although most tax return preparers are professional, honest and serve their clients well, taxpayers should use the same standards for choosing a preparer as they would for a doctor or lawyer, and be on the lookout for incompetence and criminal activity.

    There are several basic types of tax preparers: certified public accountants, IRS-designated enrolled agents, tax attorneys, storefront agents (think H&R Block) and self-employed preparers.

  • An apology to the dittos

     

     Recently, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of having to admit that I’m wrong.  I was accused of misrepresenting the NRA and yes, I did exactly that.

     I erroneously accused Wacky Wayne of being, well, wacky.  That he’s an idiot and didn’t know what he was saying.  I misrepresented the NRA as an organization of fools who don’t know shootola from shinola.

     I was wrong.  The NRA knows exactly what it’s doing.  They’re selling a product and they’re really good at it.

     And I have to thank my new best friend, Skippy, for setting me straight.  I now see the infinite wisdom of arming teachers.  

    The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

  • One big tax proposal seen among many of slight importance

    The final day for introducing bills into the 2013 legislative session came Valentine’s Day.
    My attention has gone to examining the diversity of the state, and I haven’t paid detailed attention to the session. Huge controversies have stayed hidden in the woodwork. Not that nothing is happening. Legislators have introduced 1,218 bills. Some are duplicates, with one introduced in the House and one in the Senate. A few are “dummy bills” with language about serving the public good that can become real bills later if needed.
    Still, much stuff is kicking around the Roundhouse. For those concerned about taxes, the New Mexico Tax Research Institute (www.nmtri.org) provides an invaluable tracking resource through its free online newsletter, “Tax Matters.”
    The urge to tinker with the tax code appears a common element in obscure proposals. Certainly all these proposals will make New Mexico better. After all, the tax code is a fragmented mess, so what’s one more totally reasonable exception. Let’s do something for group A or industry B.

  • Congressional GOP courts economic disaster

    It makes neither political nor economic sense, but evidence mounts by the day that the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is determined to wreck the nation’s economy.
    It is beyond mindless; it’s reckless.
    New Mexico’s freshman Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham drove the point home last week when the Dist. 1 Democrat warned that Congress must act to avert the disaster of sequestration before March 1 when massive across-the-board federal budget cuts are scheduled to kick in under a measure passed in 2011.
    If Congress doesn’t get down to business and do its job — either by producing a budget or by rescinding that sequestration mandate requiring $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts — tens of thousands of New Mexicans will see their jobs vanish, Grisham said while visiting an Albuquerque high-tech company.
    According to a recent George Mason University study, Grisham noted, no sector of New Mexico’s economy, be it public or private, will be spared crushing economic blows if Congress — starting with the Republican House majority — allows sequestration to proceed on schedule.

  • 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.