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Opinion

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • “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).

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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

  • 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.

  • There’s something exotic about painting with oils. Many artists will say that no other medium compares to working with the same medium as the great masters of old. Painting in oils is like painting with butter. Oil paint is thick and can be spread, pushed, troweled, brushed and scraped. Because it dries slowly paintings can evolve, with colors mixed on the canvas in order to create an effect.
    Artist Trevor Lucero wants to help students share in the mysteries of getting the paint to reflect their vision, to capture reflected light so realistically it delights the viewer. Although he developed this class with intermediate students in mind, he welcomes raw beginners, as well as more accomplished oil painters. Lucero say, “The amazing light of our New Mexico landscapes gives artists a great excuse to mash colors together.”
    In his class “Traditional Genres in Oil Painting” Lucero will teach how to build a painting in the traditional way: constructing an underpainting and working toward a completed image using a succession of glazes to achieve luminosity. Students will work on portraits, still lifes, or landscapes using photographs. The class meets from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursdays April 16-30 at the Fuller Lodge Art Center.

  • The notion of “paying it forward” is a popular one, and while we may not think about our income taxes as a form of paying it forward, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
    The public works that we all depend upon today — roads and highways, schools and parks, telecommunications and electrical grids, even courts and prisons — were made possible in part by taxes paid by past generations. And the taxes we pay today won’t just go toward keeping these systems and infrastructure in good repair, they will also be needed to plan for our future and address unexpected issues and opportunities.
    This kind of long-term vision is the foundation upon which the United States was built.
    Our public works and infrastructure don’t just improve our quality of life, they also make our modern economy possible. Savvy American corporations understand that they depend on this infrastructure and that they bear responsibility for helping to pay for it.
    As the new report “Burning Our Bridges” (Center for Effective Government) shows, much of our nation’s infrastructure needs could be covered simply by collecting income tax on the profits that several corporations have retained overseas.

  • The “news” is too much with us.
    True, print news venues have troubles galore, have had for a long time now.
    But anything electronic — television, blogospheric, streaming, screening, online, live, recorded, you name it — positively fibrillates as it belches forth endless servings of routinely unedited rumor, claims, charges/counter-charges, pure hokum and mindless opinion masquerading as “news.”
    Last week, when a guy named Tom Cotton opined to the effect that it would be far easier simply to bomb Iran than to continue negotiations designed to forestall that country’s efforts to develop its own nuclear weapons, I became halfway persuaded that too many loonies are making too many headlines today.
    It was Cotton, a brand new Republican U.S. senator from Arkansas, who whipped out that infamous letter (co-signed by 47 other Senate Republicans) to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei basically warning him that the negotiations were doomed inasmuch as the GOP controls both houses of Congress.
    Cotton had been in the Senate only a matter of weeks, but the media — particularly online — snapped it all up: Cotton, his letter, his cohorts, their bomb, the whole thing. They couldn’t get enough of it.

  • For those who enjoy the great outdoors, camping during the springtime can be a perfect weekend getaway. However, if you don’t want to leave your four-legged friends behind while setting out on your adventure, try bringing them along.
    “Many campgrounds allow pets, with certain rules and regulations,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
    Often, the rules regarding pets can be seen posted on their website, and if not, questions can be easily answered over the phone. However, it is not advised that you show up with your pet without prior research and consent.
    “Most rules will include things such as having your pet on a leash, making sure they are supervised at all times, and requiring proof of vaccinations,” Stickney said. “Even if they don’t require health records or vaccination certificates, it’s a good idea to bring them along just in case.”

  • Premium food, state-of-the-art veterinary care and creature comforts most humans would envy are now a regular part of life for many American pets.
    That’s why prospective pet owners should consider financial planning before bringing home a dog, cat or other breed of animal.
    For those considering purchasing or adopting a pet, do thorough research first about what owning that animal will cost. The wide range of products, services and advanced medical options for American pets have pushed U.S. pet industry expenditures to almost $60 billion in 2014, nearly double the amount in 2004.
    With pet ownership tripling since the 1970s according to The Humane Society of the United States, it is no surprise that advanced pet products and services at high price points are making it very easy for many pet owners to overspend.
    Prospective pet owners should begin their research with an idea of first-year costs.
    The ASPCA publishes an annual estimate for a variety of pets. Purchase and adoption costs may vary based on breed, so read as much as you can about a specific pet choice.

  • Any entrepreneur with a product idea or prototype can find someone to build it in New Mexico.
    Two companies that do just that for a variety of clients are Marpac, a maker of devices that secure medical tubes and collars, and TEAM Technologies Inc., which designs and fabricates products that require advanced engineering and electronics.
    Both Albuquerque companies opened their doors for New Mexico Manufacturing Day activities last fall and plan to participate again this year.

    From full service to a single stitch

  • The orphanage door was locked and the only way to open the door was to punch in a cryptic key, the deranged design of an eccentric locksmith.
    The key was a zero of a quartic equation displayed above the door, a labyrinth of logic for your average citizen.
    As smoke billowed from the rooftop, firefighters were unable to get inside to rescue the children.
    The fire chief yelled out, “Quick! We need to know how to determine the x-intercepts for this quartic!”
    Fortunately, I was ready, armed with the algebraic knowledge that allowed me to recognize the quadratic form embedded in the esoteric equation. I quickly derived the root, entered the key and rescued the children!
    OK, so this didn’t really happen. I’m still waiting for my chance to be an algorithmic hero, but I’m sure that one day, knowing how to factor a polynomial will be a life-changing event.
    When studying new concepts, my math students always ask, “What am I going to ever use this for? What good is it?”
     I could tell them, “Well, it keeps me employed,” but if that were really the reason, I’d be the first to say we shouldn’t teach it!
    So why do we study math? Or more to the geometric point, why do we study the math we study?

  • For those pining for a Democratic Party that tries to represent more than the whims of the rich and powerful, these are, to say the least, confusing times.
    On the presidential campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has been promoting standard pro-middle class rhetoric, yet also has been raking in speaking fees from financial firms.
    One of her potential primary challengers, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, has been sounding anti-Wall Street themes, but only after finishing up two terms in office that saw his state plow more public pension money into Wall Street firms, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in financial fees.
    Similarly, in Washington, the anti-Wall Street fervor of those such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren sometimes seems as if it is on the ascent — that is, until big money comes calling.
    Indeed, on the very same day Reuters reported on big banks threatening to withhold campaign contributions from Democratic coffers, Democratic lawmakers abruptly coalesced around Charles Schumer as their next U.S. Senate leader.
    CNN captured in a blaring headline how unflinching an ally the New York senator has been to the financial elite: “Wall Street welcomes expected Chuck Schumer promotion.”

  • Deciding which public works projects to fund, even in a good year, exposes our fault lines — political, rural-urban, and governmental — but it also validates need.
    The whittling for this year’s failed capital outlay (pork) bill was more hard-nosed than usual.
    From the $200 million-plus hog, the governor asked for $60 million in capital outlay: $45 million for roads and $15 million for the economic development closing fund.
    State Bill 159 emerged from the Senate Finance Committee and passed the Senate unanimously. It included $45 million for roads, an attempt to accommodate the governor, and money for local projects of all 42 senators and 33 House Democrats.
    But not House Republicans. This is because the Democratic majority in the Senate, the Republican majority in the House, and the governor couldn’t agree.
    Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, has said the state is up to its eyeballs in road debt. He refused to approve any more without a new funding source, namely an increase in fuel taxes.
    In committee, some Republicans weren’t opposed, but the governor, positioning herself for the national stage, was adamant.
    No new taxes vs. no new debt. Stalemate. When diplomacy fails, manipulation takes its place.

  • Choosing hospice care isn’t about giving up. It’s about making every day count.
    Terminally ill people who make the choice receive care for their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. They’re no longer seeking a cure, but they do want to live out their last weeks and months as comfortably as possible and with dignity.
    Unfortunately, many people with Medicare aren’t aware of the hospice benefit.
    Hospice programs follow a team approach. The specially trained team typically includes doctors, nurses, counselors and social workers, among others. A doctor and nurse are on call 24-7 to care for you and support your family when you need it.
    The hospice benefit allows you and your family to stay together in the comfort of your home, unless you require hospital care. If your hospice team determines you need inpatient care at some point, it will make the arrangements for your stay.
    Hospice’s main goal is to relieve your pain and manage your symptoms. As long as the care comes from a Medicare-approved hospice, Medicare covers the physician services, nursing care, drugs, medical equipment and supplies, and physical and occupational therapy.

  • The debate over PNM’s proposed long-term plan is raising questions that go beyond the plan itself, if New Mexicans are willing to engage in that discussion.
    Though most of the state is served by electric co-ops, PNM’s economic and environmental influence reaches well beyond its service boundaries.
    The Public Regulation Commission must make a decision with far-reaching consequences. Environmental concerns — including the health of New Mexico children — appear to clash with economic objectives, which also affect New Mexico citizens.
    But maybe the clash of objectives is not real. The argument may be broader.
    Three PRC commissioners recently spent more than two hours at a session devoted entirely to public comment about the PNM plan. Under the plan, two of the coal-fired units at the San Juan Generating Station will be shut down.
    The controversy is over what replaces the power from those units. Will it be a mix of coal, nuclear, renewable and natural gas — a plan already agreed to by federal and other state regulators — or, as some New Mexicans demand, will it be changed to scrap the coal and nuclear and rely much more on solar and wind?

  • For some time now we’ve lived with the scourge of civil asset forfeiture, under which the police can seize a person’s property on the mere suspicion it was used in a crime and without having to charge the owner with an offense. Since the authorities have no burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proving innocence falls on the hapless citizen who wishes to recover his property.
    Amazingly, people describe as free a society that features this outrage.
    Now it comes to light that the Internal Revenue Service does something similar. The New York Times reports that the IRS seizes bank accounts of people whose only offense is routinely to make deposits of less than $10,000. If you do this enough times, the IRS may suspect you are trying to avoid the requirement that deposits of $10,000 or more be reported by the bank. The IRS keeps the money, but the depositors need not be charged with a crime.
    You read that right. The government demands notification whenever a bank customer deposits $10,000 or more. If you are merely suspected of avoiding that requirement, it can cost you big time.
    Welcome to the land of the free.

  • Slogans are framed with a mock aura of coherence. By their style, slogans leave out more truth than they include.
    As a slogan is heard more, its inconsistencies get easier to spot. For example, a variety of well-known slogans show up at every debate over the best type of regulation — federal, state or local.
    The case of fracking is typical. Suppose we hear a proposal to pass regulations at the federal level. We soon hear an industry slogan decrying the folly of regulations designed with the idea that “one-size-fits-all.”
    Surely, the best regulations are tailored to fit the conditions on the ground in each state, so the story goes. It’s only natural.
    Thus begins the long road to setting different regulations for fracking in different states. The work will be greatly slowed by concerns that business will flee states that first adopt rules or adopt strong rules. Eventually, regulations will spread to nearly all states, but the rules will vary widely, depending on who was in charge when a state’s rules were passed. Rules will vary from very detailed to very simple.