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Today's Opinions

  • Council Corner: Highlights of the budget

    In my previous column, I gave a brief overview of the budget process. Today, I will focus on a few highlights in the Fiscal Year (FY) 16 budget proposal to be presented by staff.
    As I mentioned in the last column, this budget proposal should ideally reflect the initial council budget guidance discussed early in the budget process, as well as staff input regarding their operational needs.
    It’s no surprise to anyone living in Los Alamos that spending has been down at Los Alamos National Laboratory — our biggest employer — for several years. LANL drives most of our revenue, contributing directly and indirectly to 97 percent of the local economy.
    While we are working hard on new economic development initiatives, such as the new tourism attraction opportunity that will be created by the opening of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, the reality of our present-day situation is that LANL-reduced spending impacts our local economy.
    Over the past five fiscal years, our gross receipts tax (GRT) collections have fallen by 29 percent, with the greatest impact to funds that rely on that revenue source — primarily the General Fund, the fund that runs most of the usual governmental functions.

  • What goes into a budget?

    On April 20, the county council will begin their dialogue and discussions about the proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 16 budget.
    My fellow councilor Susan O’ Leary is spearheading a discussion on additional ways to communicate with the public. With this theme in mind, I would like to use this first column to “set the stage” for these upcoming budget hearings by giving our citizens some background about the budget process and responsibilities.
    It takes several months to develop and adopt a budget. The process begins late winter. The council holds discussions in their regular sessions with the county manager to talk about strategic goals, short term and long-term financial policies, expected or emerging trends on a state or national level that may impact the county, along with forecasted revenues and expenses.
    The result of those discussions is adopted by council as a “budget guidance” document.
    Using that guideline, the county departments begin working on their new FY budgets. They concentrate on finding ways to meet the county’s goals, while providing operating funds and services for existing items.

  • Comics are frightening but children are reading

    “The Great Gatsby.” “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Deliverance.” “Moby Dick.” “Lord of the Flies.”
    Every high school English class student knows these titles. The list of classic novels is long and each book conjures up images of intense classroom discussions on the need for conformance and the value of individuality, the responsibilities and dangers of social judgment, the merits of courage and the price of self-sacrifice.
    The characters in these novels put life itself on trial and allow us to levy verdict on what does and what does not define our world.
    Yes, very poetic.
    One might even think I’ve read those stories. Well, if seeing the movies counts, then sure, I’ve read them.
    Myself, I was a comic book reader. I marveled (no pun intended) at the heroics of my favorite red-white-and-blue patriot, Captain America.
    I played ‘detective’ (pun intended) while reading Batman’s investigation of some super-villain’s latest attempt to thwart justice.
    I found myself wondering if I put on a pair of glasses, would no one recognize me?  Seriously, Lois Lane had to be the dumbest person on the Planet (yeah, pun definitely intended).

  • Resetting retirement after divorce

    Retirement planning can face derailment after a divorce.
    Married, two-income couples have the advantage of splitting living expenses and pooling all their investment assets, including retirement accounts. Once the marriage is over, costs for separate households may limit the ability of ex-spouses to keep their retirement on track.
    After a divorce, individuals generally walk away with a share of joint retirement assets based on how they negotiate that split. However, returning to singlehood means the end of shared expenses with housing, food, transportation and related expenses now being paid out of one wallet, not two.
    This can mean considerably less money to direct toward retirement and other savings and investments.
    To assure a comfortable retirement, many experts advise individuals to save and invest over time so they can live annually on at least 70 percent of their pre-retirement income. Divorcing couples should retain separate qualified financial experts to assure an equitable split of assets and a continuing plan to build a solid retirement in single life.
    Here are a few steps to reset one’s retirement goals after divorce.

  • Letters to the Editor 4-16-15

    Forcing not an effective tactic
    Much as I respect Rebecca Shankland, climate change has not yet come close to making Los Alamos water-front property, so I sincerely doubt there is much danger of our plastic bags invading any ocean.
    As with most things, there are pros and cons to forcing, as opposed to the generally more effective social encouragement, (cf. use of cigarettes) of beneficial behaviors. However, knee-jerk references to irrelevancies have little if any positive effect.
    Terry Goldman
    Los Alamos

    Middle East needs equilibrium
    Due to indecision by the Obama White House to support moderate Sunni rebels in Syria, Islamic terrorists in Syria (ISIS) were able to reposition forces and attack the Iraqi Army, which folded and abandoned its U.S. equipment, including many Humvees and 155mm guns.
    The Iraqi government requested air strikes against ISIS, but President Barack Obama ignored the request, referring to ISIS as the “JV Team.”
    The result was ISIS captured our military equipment, and established territory from which they can launch terrorist attacks.
    We belatedly decided to send advisers to assist the Iraqi army, and we launched air strikes against ISIS.

  • He said, she said: Session’s best quotes

    One thing everyone agrees on is that this was a more difficult, more demanding session than usual.
    Still, there are insights, revelations and lighter moments. Here’s my third annual Quotes of the Session.
    Richard Anklam, executive director, New Mexico Tax Research Institute: “It’s important to remember the process itself is by design slow and tedious. The legislative process is the sand in the wheels of progress — and that’s not always a bad thing. For every good idea there are lots of not-so-good ones, and political expediency often yields the worst legislation. Even good policy requires extensive vetting to be well crafted and properly implemented. So, thank your elected officials for their hard work and a job well done.”
    Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis: “Fifteen days from now I will leave this chair and go sit in another chair as city commissioner, and the fire chief will be sitting in front of me. In the older parts of Clovis, we have fire hydrants that wouldn’t put out enough water to make a pot of coffee.”
    Sen. George Muñoz, on the budget: “We’re going to turn on the sprinkler and things will get kind of green, but nothing will grow.”

  • Character and teamwork keep bus company in the family

    The Silver City economy was thriving in 1996 when Christina Montoya bought her family’s bus company from her parents and continued its contract with the Cobre Consolidated School District to transport students.
    In 2001, Montoya approached The Loan Fund for money to finance the replacement of two of Montoya Transportation’s older buses.
    When two Silver City bus companies announced they were looking for buyers, Montoya secured a loan with local AmBank to buy both fleets and assume their contracts with Silver City schools.
    But just as Montoya’s business was expanding, the local economy contracted. Starting in 2002, hundreds of mine workers left town after massive layoffs at the Chino copper mine — the area’s largest employer.
    School enrollment shrank, leaving Montoya with lots of buses but fewer young passengers.
    “It was a struggle to make it every month,” Montoya recalled of those years when she was supporting six children on a shrinking paycheck. “There were times I had nothing left over.”
    Persistence and
    partnerships

  • Inflation, debt payments eat 30 percent of road funds

    Personal transportation vehicles powered by fossil fuels — cars, SUVs and pickups, that is — will be around for a long, long time.
    So will commercial trucks, which, with rail, are vital links in moving goods around the country.
    Roads will be around, too. Roads were crucial well before the combustion engine appeared. Check your Roman history. All this means we’re stuck with building and maintaining roads.
    And paying for this work.
    Governments pay for nearly all roads — federal, state and local. Yet, for years the state has been well short of having the road money it claims it needs.
    The recitation of this banal obviousness comes because the state’s political leadership has ignored the situation, a derogation of duty. Here is a summary of our sources of money.
    About $840 million will come into the Department of Transportation during fiscal 2016, the budget year starting July 1, according to “Legislating for Results: Appropriation Recommendation,” published by the Legislative Finance Committee in January. DOT requested $837.7 million; the LFC recommended $842.7 million.
    The difference, though large from the perspective of nearly all individuals, is small on the scale of things.