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Opinion

  • 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.

  • There has been a long-standing debate about the role of the sheriff in Los Alamos. The present sheriff, Marco Lucero, was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, stressing the importance of the sheriff’s role in Los Alamos.  
    County Councils, not including myself, have worked to minimize that role, drastically cutting his budget and ultimately calling an election last November to eliminate the office. After a contentious campaign, our citizens voted to keep an elected sheriff. It’s time to settle this debate.  I will present at the June 6 council meeting a resolution that clearly defines the roles of the sheriff and police department, and returns a reasonable but limited set of duties to the sheriff’s office. Council and the sheriff need to come to an agreement at that meeting, so that we can all move on to the many other challenges our county faces.

  • The original resolution turned out to be a bag of worms with few people happy and most believing the other side was getting what they wanted while their side lost out. I’m told emails ran 50-50 while I observed the voices at the Council meeting ran 75 percent conservative and 25 percent liberal.
    Shame on us!
    I can remember when this country was almost all moderates and common ground could be found between Democrats and Republicans. The word liberal referred to a college with a wide range of degree programs. Conservative referred to a person preserving nature and gay meant someone was happy.
    How far we’ve separated ourselves. To bad Obama didn’t live up to his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. “W” Bush had run on a platform of uniting a divided America. But he just divided us more. Listening to Obama I had a great feeling we could unite again. He certainly was a great orator, “There are no red states and blue states only the United States of America! There are no liberals and conservatives we are the United States of America!”

  • BY LISA BRENNER
    A Better Way for LA PAC

  • Driving across the high plains recently, we spotted a fire stretched out across a field and thought somebody was burning weeds until we saw the fire truck speeding down the road from Fort Sumner.
    It’s that time of year when we scan the horizon, a little anxiously. Recent rains have spared us the usual bad news. As I write this, there was a small fire in the Gila National Forest and a larger fire across the line in Arizona.
    So we have the luxury of thinking about readiness, which means spending.
    In the much anticipated appropriations bill, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich helped snag $4.2 billion for wildland fire management by the U. S. Forest Service and U. S. Interior Department. This includes $2.05 billion the agencies can use to respond to forest fires; with carryover balances, they should have enough money for expected firefighting.
    Udall got $407 million in emergency funding so the agencies don’t have to borrow from non-fire accounts. This is significant. What’s happened in the last few years is that Congress cut the Forest Service and Interior to the nub at the same time severe wildfires increased. Then the agencies had to tap funding they would have used for restoration and forest health, so preventive work didn’t get done. And that in turn leads to charges of mismanagement by the agencies.

  • BY LISA SHIN
    President of A Better Way for LA PAC

    A Better Way for LA PAC was formed by concerned citizens who propose that we expand and improve recreation in ways that are fiscally responsible and sustainable. I do not question the quality of life benefits our community would receive from the Recreation Bond. Personally, I would love to see an indoor ice-skating rink and expanded recreational facilities.
    However, I question whether this bond represents the highest and best use of our tax dollars, when there are so many competing needs. There is a better way. 

    I am talking about robust and diverse funding models which have been adopted nationwide to build and operate state-of-the-art facilities. An entrepreneurial, business-minded approach to generating revenues. Strong engagement with the private sector. Philanthropy from private citizens, businesses and charitable foundations.

    Consider the city of Hobbs, which spent four years to “stand together and redefine the term ‘public-private partnership’ where six public and private institutions came together to collaborate on a true center of recreational excellence.” The CORE is set to open in the spring of 2018.

  • My name is Greg White and this series of articles will cover three issues that the County Council hopefully will be discussing and acting on in a positive manner over the next several months. The first I’m sure they will, the next two can head off litigation. The first is a rewrite of the proposed immigrant resolution proposed by Councilor Pete Sheehey. The second is what will the council decide about the sheriff’s office. And the last is the legal status of appointing a county employee to an elected position, namely appointing the county manager as the county treasurer.
    I hope my articles will spur healthy and respectful discussion and encourage people to come to council meetings to make their voices heard, again in a civil and respectful way. Which may be best accomplished by the council changing it’s rules on public comment to allow five minutes per person as it’s hard no matter how concise you try to be to actually convey feelings in three minutes. Three minutes works for boxers, ever try boxing it’s a whole lot more tiring than it looks, but I always find myself running out of comment time about 30 seconds from finishing no matter how much I rehearse.

  • Governance is like a Shakespeare play in which the two governing parties act out human parts. Shakespeare famously heightens the drama with leading roles that carry the main action, spiced with an occasional ghost who reveals mindsets that drive the action. But today the action seems less important than the interplay of ghosts.
    The main action is the substance of politics – the policies to be evolved, discussed and enacted ... the necessary business of the people, by the people, for the people. A timely example would be rebuilding the middle class.  
    The ghost in the play is the “politicking” – phantom voices that name who let down the middle class. The action is the governance; the mindsets are drivers. Together, a play.
    Yet, almost every scene in today’s play is dominated by politicking – raising and reprising story lines to mythic proportions – to the detriment of real action on the people’s business. More skewing gets done than business. 
    And it gets worse. Although each party clearly seeks different policies, the politicking on each side mirrors the other. It is eerie.       

  • Of all the demonstrations of Americans’ political hypocrisy, what we’ve done about the slaughter of horses is right up there.
    We can thank our governor for a recent example, though she is hardly alone.
    Like other public figures, the governor shed crocodile tears a few years ago during the controversy over the possible opening of a horse slaughterhouse in Roswell. That controversy helped spark a change in federal policy that effectively banned horse slaughter in the United States.
    This year, she pocket vetoed a simple bill that would have saved a few horses. A pocket veto means she simply ignored the bill until the deadline passed.
    The bill, HB 390, said when the state livestock board has custody of a stray horse, licensed rescue organizations should get a chance to buy the horse at a modest fee before the horse is offered at auction. This would allow the rescue to get the horse at a low price rather than having to bid against other unknown buyers, possibly including “killer buyers” who would take the horse to Mexico and sell it for slaughter. The bill passed both houses handily.

  • The Boston Herald published this editorial Wednesday.

    So either “This is what winning looks like” or “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix (this) mess!”
    Yes, we’re confused too. In an early morning tweet yesterday President Trump seemed so unhappy with the temporary spending deal struck by congressional Republicans to keep the government up and operating until September that he would risk a shutdown then. But by mid-day he had suddenly decided that it’s a good deal after all and “a clear win for the American people.”
    The $1.1 trillion spending package does include a $15 billion boost in military spending — half of what Trump wanted — but in the greater scheme of things not a bad deal. And it includes $1.5 billion in additional cash for border security — some of it for “fixing” existing portions of the border wall.
    As for all those proposed cuts in domestic spending, well that’s just a big nevermind. The proposed $1.2 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health? NIH got a $2 billion increase. Defunding Planned Parenthood? Nope. The Environmental Protection Agency takes a 1 percent haircut on its $8 billion budget.

  • This editorial appeared in The Los Angeles Times April 19.

    Under its last chairman, Democrat Tom Wheeler, the Federal Communications Commission dramatically ramped up its regulation of telecommunications companies, especially those that provide broadband Internet access to the home. The commission adopted rules to preserve net neutrality, limit the collection and use of data about where people go online and subsidize broadband access services, while also slapping conditions on or flat-out opposing mergers between major broadband companies.
    Although the telecom industry resisted many of these steps as heavy handed and overly restrictive, Internet users, consumer groups and scores of companies that offer content, apps and services online welcomed them as prudent limits on broadband providers who face too little competition. And they’re right about that – far too many consumers today have only one or two practical options for high-speed Internet access at their homes today.

  • BY REP. RICK LITTLE
    New Mexico House of Representatives, R-Doña Ana and Otero Counties

  • BY REP. RICK LITTLE
    New Mexico House of Representatives, R-Doña Ana and Otero Counties

  • A few weeks ago, Susana Martinez vetoed funding for every state college and university. All of it.

    Since then, neither she nor House Republican leaders have proposed a plan to restore it. Because every public school relies on New Mexico for 30 percent-50 percent of their budgets, if not changed this decision will annihilate them.

    What does this mean for you? Plenty.Without funding, schools will either completely shut down or offer dramatically less education for much higher tuition; meaning many of our kids will have to go away for university. We will then have a less educated workforce, like engineers to design our roads, accountants for our businesses, and doctors to take care of us when we are sick.

    Furthermore, two-year schools provide technical programs for well-paid, steady careers like commercial truck drivers, welders, and X-ray techs. Those, as well as specialized classes for wind energy at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari and aviation maintenance at ENMU-Roswell, could disappear.

    And does your child participate in a high school dual-credit course? Those are probably gone.

    The governor’s veto will obliterate jobs. Businesses start and grow where they can find people educated in areas like the ones described above; so they won’t start or grow here when those programs vanish.

  • Sisneros Brothers Manufacturing embodies the entrepreneurial notion that finding the right niche can transform talent into business success.
    Avenicio Sisneros, founder of the Belen company, began as a cabinetmaker in the 1950s but shifted to making and installing sheet metal ducting for houses in 1987. With him were sons Martin, Alex and Philip.
    Demand quickly grew beyond the residential market, and the company began manufacturing and installing ductwork for larger commercial customers. By 1990, Sisneros Brothers abandoned installation altogether to focus on manufacturing custom sheet metal ductwork for a wide variety of customers.
    In 2001, the Sisneros leadership team consulted the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NM MEP) to get ideas about streamlining production and eliminating inefficiencies. The nonprofit organization helps businesses increase profitability and competitiveness, transforming them into lean and efficient engines of growth.
    The results of NM MEP-inspired changes impressed company principals, and Sisneros Brothers returned to NM MEP a decade later when CEO Martin Sisneros decided it was time to grow and diversify the customer base.