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Opinion

  • From an economic development perspective, the news on workers’ compensation is pretty good. But workers’ compensation is never quite that simple.
    The National Council on Compensation Insurance, NCCI, presented its annual smorgasbord of statistics recently to a group of workers’ comp policy wonks. Costs are down, and rates in the voluntary market will go down in 2016.
    Like most statistical statements about workers’ comp, the statement above is infuriatingly incomplete until explained. The reduction of 6.2 percent is not a cut in anybody’s insurance premium but rather a decrease in the loss costs upon which premiums are based. Insurance carriers will use this information in setting their premium rates. The voluntary market refers only to conventional insurance companies – not to the large segment of the market covered by individual or group self-insurance programs, or to the Assigned Risk Pool.
    This decrease in cost puts New Mexico among the better-performing states. New Mexico’s decrease is bigger than all neighboring states except Texas. This is a selling point for the ever-hopeful industrial recruiters who are forever trying to entice businesses to locate here.

  • Government rescues and economic bailouts abound. But sometimes, which is the case in Monticello, things happen on their own, courtesy of individual initiative.
    Haven’t heard of Monticello or its neighboring hamlet, Placita? Then you neither wander the very rural parts of New Mexico, nor read national publications such as the Wall Street Journal.
    Monticello, once called Cañada Alamosa (Cottonwood Canyon) was settled in 1856 by ranchers and farmers. Even older is Placita, two miles away, established in the 1840s by the Sedillo family, whose descendents still live there. At the other end of the canyon, in 1874, was an Apache agency where Geronimo was once captured. The two communities flourished for a time – Monticello’s population was 573 in 1910 – before they went the way of many rural communities.
    Today, about 50 people live in Monticello. But there is a reason to visit soon, though it is neither the setting nor the loveliness of the village. It is the same attraction that drew the big national paper to the village – organic balsamic vinegar.  

  • BY JODY BENSON
    Special to the Monitor

  • BY KURT STEINHAUS
    Superintendent, Los Alamos School District

  • BY DR. GARY SCOTT SMITH
    Center for Visions and Values

  • BY PAUL J. GESSING
    President, New Mexico Rio Grande Foundation

  • BY ANDY DENNIS
    Special to the Monitor

  • BY DR. EARL TILFORD
    Visions and Values

  • BY GERALD B. ANSELL
    PH.D. Greener Research, Los Alamos

  • New Mexico First just issued an ambitious Progress Report for the state, focused on the state’s big four issues: education, health, economy and water. The nonpartisan public policy group provides a frank, unemotional appraisal of where we’re at with the hope that legislators and organizations can use the information to find common ground.
    The report’s advisory committee, drawing from an array of sources, chose 35 indicators. Some we’ve heard before, but others give us new insight into our strengths and weaknesses.
    First, the good news: The state is making progress in pre-kindergarten enrollment, science and math college graduates, heart disease deaths, health insurance coverage, child immunization, adult smoking reduction, household income, unemployment, export-related employment, fiscal and regulatory policy, energy production, total water use, water use by public water systems, and water rights adjudications.
    And the bad: The state is getting worse in child hunger, mental healthcare access, healthcare provider access, substance abuse deaths, poverty, waterway impairment, and dams with safety deficiencies.
    Let’s look at the economy because it supports everything else.

  • Using a bank is one element of being money savvy. Overall, we are not especially money savvy, says gobankingrates.com, a personal finance website.
    In gobanking’s judgment of relative state money savviness (or not), New Mexico is in the group ranking from 31st to 40th. Criteria include using banks, saving and investing and a state’s financial education policies, such as requiring courses in high school.
    The 2013 National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was an important source for gobanking.
    New Mexico’s 857,000 households are 10.9 percent what the jargon calls “unbanked,” without any bank account. That’s 42 percent more than the 7.7 percent of unbanked households nationally.
    Another 22.5 percent were underbanked, that is, they had a bank account but used “alternative financial services” such as money orders, check cashing, remittances, payday loans, refund anticipation loans, rent-to-own services, pawn shop loans, or auto title loans. During the 30 days before being surveyed, 15.1 percent had used alternative financial services. Another 14.9 percent used such services during the past year.

  • In the dark before dawn on Oct. 27, a longtime  friend of mine and I headed out from Los Alamos to catch a flight to Southern  California.
    My colleague is a three-term regent at California Lutheran University. In this capacity, he has brought a passel of insights, gathered in his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, to be considered more widely at this 56-year-old private university in Thousand  Oaks, north of Los Angeles. The school aims to gain learning by doing, or applying facts to find answers.
    Our visit had a single purpose. We sought to advance the ideas of regulatory engineering that spring up as we look around and see the technical progress in fields on every hand. Over the last four years, a dozen of my columns here have explored the stream of smart tools and capabilities that work better, faster and cheaper in many fields.
    The peculiar question I ask is: Why not apply the same tools to make regulation also work better, faster and cheaper?  Up-to-date techniques that are little used in regulating include research and development (R&D), systems analysis,  actuarial science, data mining, drones, on-board diagnostics and the “Internet of Things.” These tools create still more prospects for regulatory engineering, a name coined in my columns.

  • BY MARITA NOON
    Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great

  • When the Dianna Duran scandal made headlines, I asked a different question.
    What was she doing with all that money in the first place, I asked?
    How does the secretary of state’s race generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions? Who is doing all that contributing, and what do those contributors want? Even though Duran has resigned, the question remains. Increasingly, this issue affects political races at every level.   
    According to the secretary of state’s own website, in 2014 candidate Dianna Duran received $356,208.08 in contributions and spent $359,073.20. What for?  
    I called Viki Harrison of Common Cause. She was so excited to talk about this, she practically jumped through the phone. Harrison echoed my concern that big money has invaded New Mexico politics, and it’s causing a serious shift in the whole way we do our political business. Harrison cited the 2012 state Senate race between Tim Jennings and Cliff Pirtle as a turning point.

  • Complete streets have room for fewer vehicles. That statement seems an oxymoron to me, too. The explanation is that “complete streets” is a technical term, a term of art, if you will, with a parent organization, Smart Growth America (smartgrowthamerica.org), and a director, Geoffrey Anderson, who is an alumnus of the Smart Growth Program at the Environment Protection Agency, the guys who did so well by us with the Animas River.
    The concept means fewer lanes with the remaining lanes narrower than we’re used to. This past spring, we tried narrower lanes on the Interstate as we entered downtown Philadelphia. Seriously scary.
    The complete-streets pitch came in an Oct. 5 presentation to the legislative Transportation Infrastructure Revenue Subcommittee. Two city councilors, Isaac Benton from Albuquerque and Carmichael Dominguez from Santa Fe, led the show, according to the committee’s agenda. I found the presentation on the transportation committee’s section under interim committees on the Legislature’s website. Find the streets group at completestreetsnm.org. Find the good guys, those interested in freedom and mobility, at the American Dream Coalition, americandreamcoalition.org.

  • BY DR. PAUL KENGOR
    Visions and Values

  • BY MARITA NOON
    Executive Director for Energy Makes America Great

  • During a brutal game with the Aggies, UNM football star Clarence Heald suffered a concussion that knocked him cold. He got up and played, semiconscious, to the end of the game, when he took another blow to the head and was unconscious for half an hour.
    It was 1906. UNM’s slogan at the time: “Do or die.”
    Today, we know that young Clarence probably paid for those injuries the rest of his life with dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty focusing or depression, among other things.
    We’ve learned a lot about brain injuries and sports in New Mexico.
    UNM’s Brain Safe Project, which began in 2013, uses MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) taken over time to study the long-term effects of brain concussions on student athletes. By 2014, it had the world’s largest database of student athletes and concussions. Some of its subjects had already looked at the images, decided not to press their luck, and stopped playing.
    State law prescribes brain-injury protocols for school sports, including training for coaches, and the New Mexico Activities Association provides clear information about concussions to parents and students on its website.
    So we’re more aware and better informed, but we’re not quite there yet.

  • Something like a vision has crept from the technocratic veneer of the Martinez administration. This is not the grand morally uplifting poetry preferred here. But it will have to do, given that the administration’s big picture, so far as I have figured it out, has been the major and appropriate crusade with public education and tinkering at the edges of the tax system.
    The environment for the unveiling came courtesy of the Association of Commerce and Industry, which invited Scott Darnell, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, to be the luncheon speaker at ACI’s fall policy summit in Albuquerque. Darnell’s job is policy oversight for a big piece of state government.
    The full disclosure here is that Darnell and I have been close enough neighbors to occupy the same ward table at Republican meetings, back when I attended such things. Then Darnell went to graduate school at Harvard, Martinez became governor and the rest, as they say….

  • BY MARITA NOON
    Executive director for Energy Makes America Great