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Opinion

  • 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.

  • 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.