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Columns

  • Pension solutions demand compromise

    We know that New Mexico’s two biggest public retirement systems are sliding toward insolvency. The Educational Retirement Board is looking into a $5.9 billion abyss between its assets and the benefits it will have to pay. The Public Employee Retirement Association faces an even bigger gap of $6.2 billion.
    Those numbers will probably get bigger as new information comes out.
    To find solutions, the Legislature in 2011 created the interim legislative Investments and Pensions Oversight Committee, chaired by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. It dutifully heard testimony and introduced bills, but there was little consensus. Curiously, the PERA didn’t even offer a plan.
    “I can’t figure out why people don’t want to fix the problem today instead of every single year kicking it down the road because at some point we’re going to be in so much trouble. That’s my biggest fight,” Muñoz said during the last session.
    Lately, we’ve seen a greater sense of urgency and real momentum. The news is that the committee and unions have approved plans from both the ERB and PERA.

  • Help on your credit report

    If you’ve ever tried to remove inaccurate of fraudulent information from your credit report and gotten the runaround, take heart: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now on the case.
    In July 2012, the watchdog agency, formed as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, gained authority to supervise all of the major consumer reporting agencies.
    The CFPB now advocates for consumers who have complaints regarding interactions with credit bureaus and identity theft protection services. This adds to the agency’s consumer grievance oversight which already included mortgages, bank accounts, consumer loans and private student loans.
    “Credit reporting companies exert great influence over the lives of consumers,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in announcing his agency’s new responsibility. “They help determine eligibility for loans, housing, and sometimes jobs. Consumers need an avenue of recourse when they feel they have been wronged.”
    You can seek assistance from the CFPB if you have issues with:
    • Incorrect information on your credit report;
    • How a consumer reporting agency is handling its investigation of your complaint;
    • The improper use of a credit report;

  • A book not to curl up with

    SANTA FE – Have you ever researched a question and discovered that the answer leads to many more questions? That’s what happened with the compilation of a book that is referred to by many as the encyclopedia of Santa Fe.
    The book was produced as a part of the celebration of Santa Fe’s 400th anniversary in 2010. An outstanding task force of local historians compiled a list of trivia about Santa Fe, which expanded to 400 questions with answers and references. Most of the answers led to further questions and more answers.
    The task force strived for accuracy but some of the questions don’t have definitive answers. I was contacted by the task force about some of those questions. I told them what I had heard but some of the published answers reveal that others had heard differently.
    “Santa Fe: 400 Years, 400 Questions” is a fun book to read. Because the 304-page book has 400 numbered questions, it is easy to put down at the drop of a hat, the ring of a telephone or the announcement that the doctor is finally ready to see you.
     It isn’t a book to curl up with and read all night because you can’t put it down. Save that for a good murder mystery on a snowy night.

  • Bond to help schools

    On Jan. 29, the voters of Los Alamos County will have the opportunity to build a brighter future for students with their vote on an all-mailed ballot for a $20 million construction bond that would not raise the tax rate.
    The upcoming bond will fund the replacement of the academic wing of Aspen Elementary School.
    The bond will also fund a variety of infrastructure costs such as new sewer and water lines for several schools. The bond will fund other much needed infrastructure costs including replacement of windows, repairs to some locker rooms, and improved fire alarm systems. In addition, the bond will fund the design costs for renovating the music wing of the high school, the middle school gym, and the next elementary school after Aspen. Some funding from the upcoming bond will be set aside to reinstate the courtyard that had been value engineered out of the middle school project.

  • Blaming the victim

    When arrested for robbing the convenience store, the man quickly told police his defense for the “so-called” robbery.
     “I walked into the store, and not even one person objected.  The sign on the door even said “Welcome — Come on in!”
     “The store’s owner did nothing to hide the fact that he had lots of cash in the store.  There is was, all green and crispy, flashing like a seductive fashion model, yelling out — Look at me!  Don’t you want me?”
     “If that guy didn’t want to be robbed, why then does he own a store with money in it?”
     “So when I held up the store and took the money, can you really blame me?  The store was just asking for it.  And the clerk gave me that money.  Willingly “gave” it to me.  He didn’t yell “Robbery!” while I was there taking the money.  Oh no, he waited until after I left.  Doesn’t that tell you something?”
     The police summarily released the man.  It was clear to any thinking person that this was not a “legitimate robbery.”

  • Key to fracking is tell-tale data

     Great passions are expended in disputing the pros and cons of regulation. Yet people on both sides of it act afraid that regulation will be improved. The trait is mystifying unless we look inside.  
    A current event shows the shrouded impulses at work.
    New York State is on the verge of a giant boost in extracting natural gas from deep shale formations by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The prospects for the next 30 years are to see tens of thousands of gas wells drilled and fracked.
    To look ahead, New York is undertaking a new review of the safety risks. News stories on the nature of the review breed slim hope it will do anything new or better.
    The stories say the review is focused on health and environmental risks. The review is headed by New York’s health commissioner, who is an able physician. “Health” is the subject; “regulation” is unmentioned.
    A study of fracking and health problems will find places where they occur and many more places where they do not. The result tells us nothing not already known.
    A decision will be made on fracking, either to stop or proceed. Lawsuits will be filed by one or more sides. The old course will be run again, yielding little in return for the time and money lost in the run.

  • Where are the state’s New Deal art treasures?

    SANTA FE – What’s the deal with New Mexico’s New Deal art? We have a whole lot of it – and should have even more.
    Back during the Great Depression, from 1933 to 1943, the U.S. government had some honking big jobs programs. You’ve probably heard of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. There also were programs to employ thousands of artists nationwide. Being a favorite spot for artists, New Mexico had a big share of those programs.
    In New Mexico, a committee of well-known artists was chosen to travel the state interviewing artists and inspecting their art.
    The artists chosen produced murals, paintings, photographs, furniture, dishes, wrought iron fixtures, copper items, weavings and other decorative items.
    The pieces were not purchased. The artists were paid a regular weekly salary, depending on their level of expertise, to produce more art. Since the artists worked for the government, their work belonged to the government.
    It was placed in public buildings throughout the state.
    Almost every school building had at least one piece of art. In addition, art was placed in all manner of other public buildings, including court houses, libraries, post offices, county and municipal buildings and universities.

  • Another look at medical marijuana

    Marijuana could be a cure for drug addiction.  That’s right: a cure.  Maybe.
    This was one fascinating revelation from a recent presentation on the opioid epidemic.  
    In fairness to the speaker, the statement about marijuana was a minor point in a generally grim presentation about the growing problem of addiction to and death from prescription opioid drugs. The emphasis on marijuana is mine.
    The speaker was Scott Goold, an economist who recently trained as a Community Addiction Recovery Specialist with Project Echo, a University of New Mexico medical education program.  Project Echo provides specialty training and expertise to health care professionals throughout the state via distance learning.
    The news about prescription pain medication keeps getting worse.  According to Goold, the problem is, in part, that opioid medications are really effective at relieving pain.  Someone recovering from an injury might want help with pain for several weeks.  But it takes only about two weeks for physical dependence to occur.  People with injuries can become addicted to these drugs while doing what seems perfectly reasonable.   

  • Crooks target businesses

    In an age when many products sell in cyberspace and the buyer and seller never meet, creative crooks are finding new ways to defraud businesses — especially web-based businesses and individuals selling items through online platforms.
    One scheme involves counterfeit versions of a time-honored currency – the cashier’s check.
    Scammers commit cashier’s check fraud using an authentic-looking cashier’s check to buy a product. The seller deposits the check and her account is charged for the amount when the check bounces back to the bank as a fake.
    Another version of this scam involves checks written for more than the sales price.
    The “buyer” typically asks the seller to remit the excess funds via a wire transfer or Western Union, offering a superficially plausible reason for the overpayment. When the phony check bounces, the seller is liable for the entire amount.
    While this scam usually targets individuals, businesses can also fall prey. To protect themselves, businesses should accept only easily verifiable payment methods.
    Scams directed at businesses often exploit new technology to commit classic crimes.

  • Understanding 401(k) fees

    If you’re like many Americans – 71 percent, according to an AARP survey – you might be under the impression that your 401(k) plan administrator doesn’t charge you anything to maintain your account. You’d be wrong.
    In fact, these companies typically charge fees equivalent to 0.5 to 2 percent of your account balance each year – sometimes as high as 5 percent. In addition to ongoing tariffs for managing your investment options, plan administrators often deduct numerous other fees from individuals’ accounts, including charges for administrative costs, sales commissions, advertising, insurance, and trading expenses.
    Perhaps equally disturbing is that many employers – which have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the retirement plans they sponsor have reasonable fees and expenses – often don’t know what fees their employees are being charged either.
    Over time, out-of-control fees can take a serious toll. The Department of Labor estimates that paying just 1 percent in extraneous fees each year could reduce your account balance by 28 percent during an average working career.