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Today's Opinions

  • Reporting agencies are always watching

    By now, you’ve probably heard about the Big Three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, which monitor your financial history and issue credit reports and credit scores to potential lenders.
    But did you know that there are dozens of other specialty consumer reporting agencies that track your history for activities that may not appear on your regular credit reports – things like bounced checks, late utility payments, insurance claims and prescription orders?
    Most people never hear about these companies until they’re suddenly turned down for an apartment, checking account, insurance policy or even a job or promotion. But you need to know that potential landlords, banks, insurance companies and employers are very likely ordering specialty reports to help them assess the risk of doing business with you.
    That’s fine if you’ve got a squeaky-clean track record. But what if their files contain mistakes; or worse, what if someone has hijacked your identity and is poisoning your record with their own bad behavior?

  • State highways need $100 million, but finding money may be difficult

    Miles and miles of roads traverse New Mexico, 20,000 of them by the count of the state’s Department of Transportation.
    The count covers 10,000 miles of state highways, 981 miles of interstates, 3,424 miles of U.S. highways and 5,595 more of mere state “roads.” Those miles miss county roads, forest service roads and, surely much more.
    DOT says we have 33,000 “lane miles” of roads. Four-lane interstates provide 3,924 of those lane miles. U.S. 285 between Vaughn and Roswell and U.S. 550 between Bernalillo and Bloomfield, both also four lane, account for more lane miles.
    The state has around 109 miles of roads for each New Mexican, which makes sense with half our 2.2 million people scattered around the nation’s fifth largest state. The other half concentrates in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe north central urban area.
    The miles and miles require buckets and buckets of money—$862 million for the current budget year. The money is getting harder to find.
    Around 45 percent of DOT’s money, about $375 million, comes from the Federal Highway Administration. The biggest dollar source is the state road fund, which provides $385 million, or about 46 percent.

  • Raising bar for entry into college is crucial

    Every few years we debate raising entrance requirements to enter the state’s universities, and then nothing happens.
    Recently, NMSU regents voted to raise admissions standards from a 2.5 GPA to 2.75. UNM, which inched up from 2.25 to 2.5 in the last few years, is making noises about following suit.
    This would be good for everybody, but most importantly, it would be good for students.
    For years, our institutions of higher education have been victims of their own successful recruiting. “Register for college,” the sirens sing. “It’s your ticket to future success.”
    Not if you’re unprepared. Every year hundreds of young people who fared poorly in high school and slipped under the bar to enter college; they struggle with the material and drop out after a year or two – often with student loans attached like a ball and chain. How is this serving them on their future path?
    Numbers tell the story. According to NMSU, half its students entering with less than a 2.75 GPA will drop out the first year, and 85 percent won’t graduate in six years. The same discussion is going on all over the country because studies show that high school grades are the best indicator of college success.
    The real wonder is that this has gone on so long. It reflects denial up and down the line.

  • Pollution upsets the apple carts

    Social media are notorious for upsetting political apple carts. Pollution had the same power a century earlier and shows it still today.
    Pollution has special ways to sneak past borders, leave tracks and scramble politics in its path. History is rich in entanglements of people with pollution, companies and governments.
    A prime example occurred in the 1800s near Copperhill, Tennessee, which abuts the Georgia state line. Your guess is right about copper in those Tennessee hills: The ore was mined and the first smelter in the district was built in 1854.
    By 1861, smelter emissions of sulfur dioxide (“SO2”) were killing off vegetation for miles around and spreading damage wider. Landowners filed a lawsuit in 1904, but Tennessee courts ruled the counties gained more value from the copper than they lost in damage.
    The tangles spread. In 1906, the United States Supreme Court heard Georgia’s claim that Tennessee Copper Company was taking away Georgia’s sovereign rights of control over its land and air. The Court found for Georgia but denied the injunction that was sought, because by then TCC was building a plant to capture the SO2.

  • The ins and outs of 529 college savings plans

    For many people, their biggest expenses in life are funding retirement, buying a home and paying for their children’s college education — or a portion of it, anyway. Setting aside money for these and other financial goals is difficult, especially when you’re trying to save for them all simultaneously and from a young age.
    One of the more popular college savings vehicles is the 529 College Savings Plan. Every state and Washington, D.C. offers at least one 529 plan option, although most offer several. Key features include:
    • You make contributions using after-tax dollars; their investment earnings grow tax-free.
    • Withdrawals aren’t taxed if they’re used to pay for qualified higher-education expenses (e.g., tuition, room and board, fees, books, supplies and equipment).
    • If you withdraw the money for non-qualified expenses, you’ll have to pay income tax and a 10 percent penalty tax on the earnings portion of the withdrawal — plus possible state penalties, depending on where you live.
    • Many states that have a state income tax give accountholders a full or partial tax deduction for contributions made to their own state’s plan. Three states (Indiana, Utah and Vermont) also offer tax credits for contributions.

  • Standardized tests are the wrong way to go

    As mothers helping to lead the fight against harmful policies inflicted on our children in New Mexico and Tennessee, we felt compelled to respond to the July 24 opinion piece written by education leaders Hanna Skandera and Kevin Huffman that appeared in the Washington Post.
    In classrooms across New Mexico and Tennessee, standardized tests are taking away valuable classroom learning. Of the 174 days our children attend school in New Mexico, 76 of those days are impacted by some standardized test or another. In Tennessee, teachers estimate that at least 1/3 of the year is devoted to testing or test preparation.
    Meanwhile, classroom budgets in New Mexico and Tennessee have shrunk while class sizes have increased. Millions are being diverted to standardized test companies. Skandera holds much-needed revenues hostage by requiring districts to agree to give certain tests like DIBELS in order to receive “grant money.”
    Despite what Huffman and Skandera claim, parents and teachers have never said the old way our states evaluated teachers is the only way to do so. What we have said is that linking a teacher’s evaluation score to standardized tests is the wrong way to go.

  • Clubbing the graduation rate

    Newspapers recently cheered the announcement by the United States Department of Education that, for the first time in U.S. history, high school graduation rates had exceeded the 80 percent threshold.
    This is fantastic news! Just think, one out of five students doesn’t graduate! Now that is truly a reason to celebrate!
    Hmmmm, when you say it that way, it doesn’t prompt the masses to start dancing in the streets, does it?
    And when you consider the additional fact that a significant percentage of those who do graduate are not “college ready,” there’s even less reason to start shooting off fireworks. Less than half of students entering college are sufficiently prepared for college level coursework.
    And so I found it very encouraging when I read another report about how high school clubs aid in educational progress. It’s not hard to understand why joining a club would help improve a student’s class work. Much of the difficulty students encounter in high school has little to do with what’s written in textbooks and much more to do with the learning environment in which they are immersed for four years.
    Joining a single club can significantly improve a student’s chance of graduating. What more reason do we need that that to strongly encourage our students to join a club?

  • Seek details before owning pet pygmy goats

    With their playful temperaments and small, compact size, it is no surprise that pygmy goats are often sought after as pets. However, since goats are deemed livestock, you must check with your homeowners’ association or deed restriction before bringing one home. If in doing this you discover it is allowed, here are some tips for keeping your pet pygmy goats happy and healthy in their new home.
    “Although some people do keep their pet goats indoors, they are not easy to house train and due to their activity level, curiosity, and dietary needs, we recommend they are kept outdoors,” said Dr. Philippa Sprake, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “They should have an outside area to play and a shelter from the elements, where hay, straw, or shavings serve as good bedding sources.”
    Their bedding, of whichever type you choose, should be changed regularly depending on the weather, size of shelter and number of goats. Keep in mind that goats do not like getting wet, and they also require a cool area to withstand the summer heat. Since goats are herd animals, having at least two housed together will help to decrease stress and allow them company.