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Opinion

  • BY PETE SHEEHEY
    Los Alamos County Councilor

    The County Council will consider the role of the Sheriff in Los Alamos in a Special Session Wednesday, July 26 at 6 pm at the LA Municipal Building.  After a contentious campaign, Los Alamos voted last November to keep an elected Sheriff.

    I believe a majority on Council now accepts that our citizens want a functional Sheriff’s Office. I am proposing a Resolution (losalamosnm.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_6435726/File/20170726_Resolution%2017-08_Sheriff.pdf) to return a reasonable set of duties to the Sheriff’s Office.  This resolution is a compromise that acknowledges the wishes of the majority to preserve a functional elected sheriff’s office, while respecting the concerns of those who voted to eliminate the office.  

  • With the July 10 announcement by Congressman Steve Pearce that he is running for governor, the field of substantive candidates seems complete.
    Before going further, one point of context should be specified; I like Steve Pearce. I met him about 20 years ago during his two-term apprenticeship as a legislator from Hobbs. I found him smart and personable. He asked good questions. Since then, he has shown himself to be firmly committed to ideas and prone to the occasional grand gesture.
    One question for Pearce won’t disappear. It’s whether he can win a statewide general election. He won a statewide Republican U. S. Senate primary in 2008 when he beat then Congresswoman Heather Wilson, hardly a trivial opponent, for the privilege of getting soundly beaten by Democrat and now Sen. Tom Udall.
    Wilson, who beat a series of nonentities while she was in Congress (incumbency helps) lost a second Senate race to a formidable opponent, Martin Heinrich.
    Pearce’s ideas form a second question. Call him a staunch conservative. For sure he will be toast if he only presents voters the standard list of right-wing talking points. He will also be toast if he allows Democrats to cast him as a conservative caricature.

  • By Sandy Nelson
    For Finance New Mexico

    Young people can be hard to impress, but students from Albuquerque’s Academy of Trades and Technology (ATTHS) charter school were visibly stoked by a tour of Rader Awning during 2016 Manufacturing Day events.

    Before-and-after shots of the 15 ATTHS students who visited the factory where Rader manufactures awnings, shade panels and fabric products illustrate what can happen when young adults get a close look at the world of manufacturing: a transformation from bored detachment to delighted engagement.

    It’s the kind of transformation that inspires New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NM MEP), the organizers and sponsors of local Manufacturing Day, to focus on introducing a fresh generation to careers in advanced manufacturing.

    Closing the gap

  • Last summer, at the Santo Domingo Pueblo arts and crafts fair, I bought a carved wooden bear from a seller who said he was from Jemez Pueblo. He was sitting with fetish carvers from Zuni Pueblo. Imagine my surprise when I saw a shelf full of the same carved bears across the border in Mexico.

    Recently, U. S. Sen. Tom Udall held field hearings on the issue of counterfeit Native American art. His goal was to hear from artists, experts and law enforcement officials about changes needed in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to better protect both artists and buyers.

    This is not a trivial problem. In the past year, we’ve seen multiple indictments stemming from a federal investigation.

    The quantity of fake Indian jewelry pouring in from Asia is truly staggering. It’s risen to a level (one number used in the hearing was 80 percent ) that will kill our jewelry industry if we let it.

    I was surprised to learn some years ago that New Mexico’s jewelry industry is the fifth or sixth largest in the country.

  • By Nathaniel Sillin

    Are you packing up your car and hitting the road this summer? You’re not alone. According to a survey conducted by AAA, road trips are the most popular type of vacation for families in the U.S. in 2017. In fact, 10 percent more families are expected to take road trips this year than last.

    From driving to the tip of Cape Cod, to seeing the Great Lakes all the way to a drive through the Yosemite Valley in California, there are limitless ways to explore on the road.

    Whether you’re going to visit family or taking off on an epic adventure, a road trip can be a great way to make travel about the journey rather than the destination.

    Before you hit the road, make sure your car can handle the trip. Before you pack up your car, it’s a good idea to take your car to a mechanic and ensure that it’s ready for the drive. Having your car inspected and serviced by a mechanic before a road trip can be a worthwhile investment that could both save you money and prevent an untimely breakdown.

    Looking into a rental car is an alternative you may want to consider if you’re hoping to avoid wear and tear that might depreciate your car’s value. Consider your options carefully and choose what makes most financial sense for you.

  • As governor, Bill Richardson had ideas. He gave us commissions for this and that. There was something about a national football league franchise. Somewhere. He gave us the spaceport and the commuter railroad, both heavily subsidized by taxpayers—me and thee. An added bonus from the railroad is the opportunity for people to die along the tracks.

    Just about all of our so-called leaders have ideas about sunsets and little else.

    There are some people with real ideas in Washington, D.C., of all places. Ideas of substance, not the sniping about the failed policies of Gov. X or Sen. Y.

    The two-year-old Economic Innovation Group (eig.org) seems to have mixed people from across the various spectra.

    The website headline is, “Empowering entrepreneurs and investors to forge a more dynamic U.S. economy.” EIG calls itself “a bipartisan public policy organization, ​founded in 2013, ​combining innovative research and data-driven advocacy to address America’s most pressing economic challenges.”

    Notice that it says “bipartisan” rather than “non-partisan.” New Mexico could learn from EIG.

    The distinction recognizes that factions—parties—won’t go away.

  • By James Jimenez

    Camping is one of this nation’s great equalizers. Whether you camp with the latest, most expensive gear, or you hang a tarp and sleep in the bed of a pickup truck, there is a camping style to fit most every budget. It continues to be, for many families, one of the cheapest ways to vacation and enjoy the great outdoors. Camping is becoming an equalizer in a different way, as more and more racial and ethnic minorities are pitching tents.

    A recent survey showed that of the one million U.S. households that went camping for the first time in 2016, nearly 40 percent were either Hispanic (13 percent), African American (12 percent) or Asian American (14 percent). Non-white campers now comprise more than a quarter of all campers—an increase of more than 100 percent since 2012. Much of this shift is due to millennials, who make up a growing share—now 38 percent—of households that are active campers, according to the survey.

  • By Bob Hagan

    Along the road from Reserve into the Gila National Forest, you drive for miles through a dismal landscape of blackened stumps, thousands of dead trees standing like a surreal forest of telephone poles.

    Five years ago this summer, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire swept through more than 465 square miles of the Gila. Ignited by lightning strikes, fanned by high winds and fueled by a tinder-dry mixture of ponderosa, piñon and juniper, the conflagration defied the efforts of more than 1,200 firefighters for more than a month before it was finally brought under control.

    It was New Mexico’s worst wildfire, so far. Counting the loss of timber, damage to watersheds and ongoing stabilization and burned area rehabilitation work, the final bill was around $100 million.

    The good news is that nature is stubbornly resilient. While there are still ugly drifts of black ash in the gullies, there is green on the slopes. Fire, we are constantly reminded, is a necessary part of the forest ecosystem. But looking over the thousands of acres of charred logs littering the landscape, it’s worth asking whether we would not have been better off cutting those trees ourselves rather than waiting for nature to take its course.

  • We all know how a bill becomes a law, right? A lawmaker writes a bill, the legislature passes it, and then the governor signs it.

    At least, that’s what New Mexico’s Constitution says. Unfortunately, losers in the legislative process are increasingly willing to ignore that process, and a rulemaking currently underway in Santa Fe shows how.

    This spring, the New Mexico Legislature considered imposing new donor disclosure rules on nonprofit organizations. The measure was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez over privacy concerns. Now Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is attempting to impose those rules by bureaucratic fiat, using a regulation to enact what couldn’t be done through the normal lawmaking process.

    Bureaucratic rulemakings can serve an important function. They help to implement and clarify laws that are passed by the Legislature.

    But here, instead of implementing the law, the Secretary of State’s office is enacting rules that were rejected in the constitutional lawmaking process. Although pitched as “political disclosure,” as Gov. Martinez wrote in her veto message in April, “the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances.”

  • In the population game here, what counts is domestic migration, the movement of people to and from the state and our 33 counties from other places in the United States.

    Domestic migrants are important because they are at the margin, responding to opportunity in New Mexico, or, if they leave, to opportunity elsewhere. Migrants are dynamic. They are betting the family fortune, financial and otherwise, on moving, an activity that is a royal pain.

    Metropolitan Farmington, which is San Juan County, is the big domestic migration story since the 2010 census, but not in a good way. Farmington saw 20,955 people depart for other states, according to Census Bureau data from April 2010 to July 2016. That’s a net figure; some move in, others leave. In Farmington leavers beat arrivers every year since 2010.

    In Farmington’s “vital events” column, other new arrives – 11,561 babies – outnumbered the people who died by 5,650 for a natural increase gain offsetting about a quarter of the migrant departures. That left Farmington’s six-year population loss at 14,966, or 11.5 percent of the 2010 population of 130,045.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.   

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Matters

  • 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.

  • Political pundits are talking lately about a possible run for governor by Congressman Steve Pearce. If that’s true, he has a strange way of endearing himself to New Mexico voters.
    Pearce was one of the Republicans to sign the American Healthcare Act. And while other Rs look for cover as the president’s controversies deepen, Pearce goes out on a limb to defend him.
    The current version of the House healthcare bill isn’t likely to survive the Senate makeover, but it’s instructive to look at what Pearce thinks is appropriate for us.
    The AHCA would repeal Obamacare, phase out increased federal funding for low-income people who got coverage through the 2014 Medicaid expansion. It would instead make Medicaid a cheaper block grant program. Millions of people would lose their coverage in the next ten years.
    In New Mexico that translates to more than 265,000 people of the 900,000 currently on Medicaid, according to an analysis by economist Kelly O’Donnell, of UNM’s Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy. It would also affect the children, seniors and disabled people who traditionally qualified. New Mexico would have to come up with an additional $427 million a year or reduce coverage.