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Today's Opinions

  • Inept management at HSD shows in lawsuits, festering problems

    People remember Brent Earnest as a competent and well-liked legislative analyst. Then he joined the state Human Services Department as deputy secretary under Secretary Sidonie Squier, best known for the behavioral health disaster and her hostility to legislators.

    Squier decimated the state’s behavioral health system by accusing 15 providers of overbilling based on a deeply flawed audit. Then she halted their Medicaid funding, driving many out of business. When Squier departed in 2014, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, suggested Earnest as a replacement.

    “A lot of us in the Legislature have confidence in his ability and think he’s a genuinely caring person,” he said.

    Earnest got the nod but declared right off that he would uphold the same muddled agenda. The Senate confirmed him unanimously, probably expecting him to clean up the troubled department. Earnest just leaned into the wind and slogged on.

    Ortiz y Pino in May called for Earnest’s resignation.

    This was because of HSD’s other running disaster – a longstanding lawsuit over the department’s poor handling of SNAP (food stamp) applications. While Sidonie Squier owns the behavioral health mess, Earnest gets credit for the SNAP program’s advanced decay.

  • How to save money with a new pet in your home

    By Nathaniel Sillon
    Visa Financial Education Programs Director

    Whether it’s a dog, cat or another furry (or scaly) friend, many people have pets who are more than just animals – they’re part of the family.

    Pets can be friends, they can offer nonjudgmental companionship when you’re feeling down and they can put a smile on your face. To provide the best care for a pet, you’ll want to be able to afford their needs, including the basics like food and healthcare. With this in mind, think carefully and review your budget before deciding to welcome an animal into your family.

    Choose a pet that you can afford. While the initial cost of adopting or buying a pet is relatively small compared to the long-term expenses, the type of pet you choose does matter.

    Admittedly, you might visit the pound and fall in love with a dog or cat. What can you do? The heart wants what the heart wants. Research is a must if you want to take cost-saving measures, though. For example, larger animal breeds may be more expensive to care for, partially because they simply eat more food. And if you’re taking in a dog you’ll want to consider the cost of training, which could set you back several hundred dollars.

  • Wonders of wood bloom anew

    Foolish Pig No. 2 of the Three Little Pigs built his house of sticks. The Big Bad Wolf quickly did his famous thing. He huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down. 

    So the fourth Little Pig researched the latest construction news. He went online and landed a job as a sales agent for cross-laminated timber.

    Cross-laminated timber, or CLT, is a high-tech product made from the prehistoric building material that trees supply.

    CLT is made by gluing and pressing together a row of boards to form a sheet of wood. Sheets are stacked in layers, so that boards in adjacent layers crisscross, then are glued and pressed together. The product is then cut as needed. It has been called “plywood on steroids.”

    Surprising utility comes from the natural strength of wood bundled in different directions. A tree trunk or a long log can be broken by bending it sideways hard enough, as you would a toothpick. Now imagine trying to break a log by pushing the two ends toward each other. The task is harder by far.

    When the directional strengths of wood are stacked up to their best advantage in CLT panels and beams, their ability to bear loads defies old logic. Trees are still yielding fresh mysteries.   

  • Better economy key to brighter future for N.M. kids

    By Rebecca Dow, New Mexico House of Representatives R-Dist. 38

    Republican and Democrats agree – too many children in New Mexico are growing up in unacceptable circumstances 
    Earlier this month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual “Kids Count” report on the status of child well-being in each state. The news for New Mexico was disheartening. 

    While our state showed improvement on most measures, we are not keeping up with other states. Once again, we came in at 49th overall, placing ahead of just one state, Mississippi. 

    Reports like this one motivated me to start AppleTree Educational Center in Truth and Consequences back in 1999. I believed New Mexico could do better, and I felt that focusing on early childhood education was the key to helping our state’s children overcome any circumstances. 

    AppleTree serves hundreds of families with children prenatal through 24 in Sierra County each year. Our evidence-based programs have positively impacted many key health and well being indicators for our county. More kids are entering school ready, avoiding risky behavior, graduating on-time, and going to college. Yet in 2015 Sierra County became the poorest county in the state. 

  • PED’s teacher evaluations stumble on transparency

    Late last year, we saw some light in the education wars with proposals to revamp the state’s teacher evaluation system. Various legislation would have altered the weight of testing in the evaluation or allowed teachers more sick days. At least two aimed for a complete rewrite.

    The Public Education Department in 2012 handed down the evaluation system by administrative order, and it’s been controversial ever since. Teachers and their unions have complained that it relies too heavily on standardized test scores and that it’s unfair, punitive and demoralizing.

    Teachers explain again and again that not all students are the product of a stable home life and that kids come to school with issues beyond what a teacher can fix during the school day. That’s why they preferred evaluations based on classroom observations.

    During the regular legislative session, several of the evaluation bills rocked along with bipartisan support. The “teachers are human too bill,” with two Republican sponsors, would have let teachers use all ten of their allowed sick days without penalty. After passing both houses nearly unanimously, it was felled by a veto; the Senate voted to override but not the House.

  • Prepare for major life expenses with tax- advantaged accounts

    BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Matters

    College tuition, a new pair of glasses and retirement may seem unrelated, but the tax law says otherwise. By knowing how and where to save your money, you could pay for each of these expenses with tax-advantaged – or in some cases income-tax-free – money.

    Individual Retirement Agreements (IRAs) and 401(k)s are perhaps the two most well-known examples of these types of accounts. But they’re not alone. With educational and medical expenses in mind, consider the following types of accounts and how you might be able to use one to help yourself or your family.

    Invest your college fund in a 529 plan. State-sponsored 549 plans come in two forms. Prepaid tuition plans let you lock in today’s rate for in-state public schools and 529 college savings plans allow you to invest your savings based on your goals and risk tolerance. Contributions aren’t a federal tax write-off, but if you invest in your state’s plan, there might be a state income tax write-off.

  • Do you want tax reform? Muzzle the governor and make it bipartisan

    Republicans are discouraged that instead of getting a gross receipts tax overhaul, we’re getting a $400,000 study. But realistically, their 430-page baby was way too much for a two-day special legislative session. The good news is that tax reform is on everybody’s radar, and I see the political will to get it done. What I don’t see, yet, is the necessary bipartisan cooperation.
    Sitting through the long hearing for the bill, I heard strengths as well as unfinished business.
    Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, deserves our thanks for taking on this monster. Harper told the House Labor and Economic Development Committee that he tried hard to be nonpartisan. “It’s not a far right solution or a far left solution,” he said. “We met in the middle of the road.”
    The bill would have removed most GRT exemptions, deductions and credits and applied the savings to reduce the rate from 7 percent to 6 percent. It also remedied a host of other problems with the tax, including its name, which is scary to outside companies thinking about moving here.
    “Names really mean something,” Harper said.
    The bill would also have taxed internet sales, healthcare providers and nonprofits and increased the motor vehicle sales tax and the healthcare premium tax.

  • Southwest Conservation Corps branches out in New Mexico

    On a fine April weekday we stopped outside Grants at El Malpais National Monument visitor center, one of our standard travel breaks. A group was lunching at the concrete tables under the ramada. Several wore bright jumpsuits. Their hardhats had a dark, rectangular insignia resembling, from a distance, the Caterpillar Inc. logo.
    Curious, I ambled over to visit.
    The logo was “SWCC” for Southwest Conservation Corps (sccorps.org), which turns out to have five offices around the region. The New Mexico locations are Acomita Lake, serving the Pueblo of Acoma, the Pueblo of Zuni and Gallup. The Colorado offices are the headquarters in Durango and in Salida.
    SWCC’s website lists 10 programs. In general the programs involve crews going to areas and doing all sorts of conservation work. The programs serve rural areas with one exception, the Barrio Corps in Albuquerque, a partnership with La Plazita Institute (laplazitainstitute.org).
    The Ancestral Lands program, based at the Pueblo of Acoma, has proven popular. Using the Acoma template, a Gallup office opened three years ago with a Zuni Pueblo office last year. A Hopi office is planned for this year.