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Columns

  • Utility board charter perspective

    During my career as an engineering manager for electric utilities, I often motivated the troops with the results of a national survey. Respondents were asked to rank the factors most important to their lives from a long list.
    The results were, in order:  air, water, food and electricity. The devastating aftermath of hurricane Sandy is another illustration of the importance of electricity to people’s health and safety.
     Here in Los Alamos, our Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is directly responsible for two out of four of these most important factors.
    Operating our utilities is similar to running our town; it involves all the strategic elements of planning, maintenance, emergency response, informed purchases, public safety, and reliable performance of both equipment and workers. We expect our water, gas and electric power to be there, present and future, and we expect it restored immediately, if lost. It is a responsibility that must always be taken seriously.
    Utility management provides the technical and administrative skills to execute their mission. The Utility Board provides oversight and provides sufficient funding to perform the mission through rates that are fair to all served. In addition, Board oversight must be strategic, to ensure management is planning for long range needs and infrastructure maintenance.

  • WESST offers global program

    WESST brings a global business initiative to New Mexico in a five-part series of workshops designed to empower small-business owners to make sound financial decisions.
    HP Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs — or HP Life — is a global program sponsored by Hewlett Packard that trains the owners of microenterprises to apply information technology and business skills to establish and expand a job-creating venture.
    WESST sponsors the workshops at its Albuquerque Enterprise Center.
    Sessions cover the basics of finance, financial planning, invoicing, expense tracking and cash flow management.
     While the workshops empower participants with information about critical business tools, business owners should always verify accounting practices with an accountant who’s familiar with their business.
    Fundamentals of finance: Break-even analysis is the most basic of financial basics. Without doing this analysis, a business owner can’t know when the amount of money she’s bringing in is equal to her costs.
    Determining this break-even point requires a list of variable costs associated with making the product and a list of fixed costs, such as rent or loan payments that need to be paid no matter how many products are made.

  • Comments on the ballot issues

    The rhetoric regarding the Charter ballot questions on initiative, referendum and recall is making the changes sound positively draconian!
    Let’s look at what the most widely challenged changes actually do.
    For Initiatives
    1) No change in the percentage of voters needed (so not noted in the ballot question) but a change in the basis for the number of signatures required for initiatives from 15% of voters in the last general election to 15% of the number of voters in the arithmetic mean of the past two general elections. (Election Resolution 12-09, p. 4, New Section 700.2)  For example:
    • 15 percent of the 8,846 voters in 2010 = 1,327 (mid-term)•
    • 15 percent of the 11,118 voters in 2008 = 1,668 (presidential)
    • 15 percent of the mean of 9,982 voters  = 1,497
    So if the last general election is a typical presidential election you are better off with the Charter change!
    Santa Fe requires 33.3 percent of the voters in the last mayoral election (actual numbers not available at press time).  Albuquerque requires 20 percent of the average of the last four municipal elections.

  • Education needs some re-education

    Noted historian and philosopher Will Durant said, “Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” I tend to agree. Our educated nation has progressively become more and more ignorant.
    That being said, I would like to talk about measuring the quality of peanuts in America. Well, education actually.
    If students were peanuts, quality of education would be a lot easier to measure.  The 1938 Food Drug and Cosmetic Act established Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), standardized testing procedures to assess the quality of manufactured products.
    Bizarre as it might seem, a peanut has far more well-defined quality metrics than a student.
    Of course, it’s easier to measure quality of a peanut because one can clearly define what one expects from a peanut.
    Students are a bit more dimensional, although I have in fact met a few who are chunky and some others who are rather smooth.
    Let’s shelve peanuts for a moment and look at what constitutes a “high quality” of education.
    To start, how does one define quality of education? What educational attributes induce students to learn? How should one evaluate the effectiveness a curriculum? Should teachers be appraised by the successes or failures of their students?
    And what exactly is it that we expect from education?

  • 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.