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Opinion

  • Due to recent economic realities, multi-generational living has been on the rise for many families.
    A 2014 Pew Research Center analysis showed that a record 57 million Americans, equal to a little over 18 percent of the U.S. population, lived in multi-generational family households in 2012 — double the number in 1980.
    The major driver was young adults aged 25-34. According to Pew, nearly 24 percent of these older millennials lived in multi-generational households, increased from nearly 19 percent in 2007 and 11 percent in 1980.
    It’s possible the “boomerang” family trend will remain in place for some time to come.
    For homeowner parents who may also be juggling the “sandwich” responsibilities of caring for older relatives, paying attention to the financial and behavioral details of taking in family is critical. Here are some suggestions to consider:
    Your finances come first. Operating a full house means higher utility and food costs and additional wear and tear on the property. Taking in family also shouldn’t derail a parent’s career goals or retirement planning, nor should it diminish other necessary financial objectives like maximizing savings or eliminating debt.

  • Last week our legislators did a good thing.
    During a short, business-like special session, they passed a public works bill and a package of tax incentives and directed funding to the courts and the Health Department.
    At the end of the day, Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, threw a little cold water on the euphoric proceedings. Ninety-nine municipalities supported the capital outlay bill, he said.
    “I want them to be on their guard. We can claw that back. That’s not an empty threat. They will have to act more responsibly. I have a list of how much money is out there not spent.”
    The Legislature giveth and the Legislature taketh away.
    As Smith has said before, he doesn’t play games or make idle threats. Next year, without a solid economic rebound of the state’s economy or oil and gas revenues, we can expect another tight budget. Smith’s committee and its counterpart in the House will be looking for money.
    During the regular session, last winter, State Auditor Tim Keller announced that $4.5 billion was sitting in more than 700 state accounts. Of that, $2 billion, primarily from past allocations, hadn’t been spent for infrastructure projects, including $700 million for water projects.

  • If you want to get a laugh out of some of the wonkiest policy wonks in the state, try this: The top question asked these days by tax policy people all over the country is what’s happening with taxing marijuana.
    Everybody wants to jump on that bandwagon.
    Hold off, said Scott Pattison, director of the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), speaking recently at a conference of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute. The news is not that exciting. Legalizing and taxing marijuana will not solve New Mexico’s revenue problems. Darn!
    And some New Mexico policy makers thought it was such a clever idea.
    The benefit of a speaker with national perspective is that he reminds us we’re not alone, we’re not that different from other states and the laws of nature and economics apply, even in the Land of Enchantment.
    According to Pattison, most states face the same critical needs and no state has enough revenue to meet them all.
    The big issues include infrastructure, education, tax cuts, revenue shortfalls, arguments about other funding mechanisms (read: marijuana tax), Medicaid and more Medicaid.
    Several states rely on oil and gas for a major part of their funding. They’re all having a hard time. Some states rely on federal spending, as New Mexico does.

  • I did not comment in the county’s forum before and see no need to do so now.
    The opinion of the vast majority of those who did comment was clear to me. Will the plaintiffs stuff the ballot box now that it has been reopened?
    Our system is supposed to be a democracy. This means that the will of the majority is to be legislated and not the will of a minority who would dictate/mandate that “their morality” and their view of the “right thing to do” be imposed on everyone.
    I have decided to “review” recent activities and make some observations.
    Shortly after the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) met on May 13 and the floor was opened for debate as to whether Los Alamos County should “ban or otherwise reduce the distribution of single use bags,” supporters asked the board to withdraw the option of an outright ban. Rather than banning the bag now, they would rather have Los Alamos County mandate pay-per-bag for both paper and single-use plastic, indicating that this would give everyone, environmentalists and free choice consumers alike, pretty much what we want.

  • Spending by state government during the coming budget year (fiscal 2016) on the largest categories will be about the same as during the year ending June 30.
    That’s because little additional money is expected during the new year and also because no consensus — not even a fleeting conversation — exists about any big shuffle of state priorities.
    The “2015 Post-Session Review” from the Legislative Finance Committee reports that for FY 16, appropriations from the general fund (the state’s main pot of operating money) are $2,752 million for public schools, $908 million for Medicaid, $848 million for higher education and $419 million for public safety. Everything else from the acequia and community ditch education program to the Spaceport Authority shares the rest—$1.319 billion. The figures here come from the LFC report.
    The Department of Transportation appropriation is $865 million, mostly for highways but siphoned away for many things. This money does not flow through the general fund.

  • Hillary Clinton was in New Mexico last week. Word has it that she was fundraising on behalf of her campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
    Predictably that quest took the former First Lady/former U.S. Senator/former Secretary of State to the doorsteps of the legendary Ed Romero, who was U.S. Ambassador to Spain in the administration of Mrs. Clinton’s husband.
    Ever thereafter the ambassador has been New Mexico’s go-to Democrat other Democrats go to for blessings and big bucks after they have set about running for president.
    About a gazillion American politicians are running for president this time around and most of those included in that gazillion are registered Republicans. Only a handful of Democrats, foremost among them being Hillary Clinton, have declared their interest in the White House.
    It has made her an easy target for the slings and arrows that turned Clinton-bashing into a favorite Republican sport going back almost a quarter of a century now.
    By some readings, recent polls seem to suggest that the attacks are working.
    It overstates nothing to note that there is already a slew of wannabe Republican presidents heading for the campaign trail this year, and, to mix a couple of metaphors, each passing day seems to find another GOP hat sailing toward the ring.

  • A successful job search goes well beyond snagging the title and the paycheck. From the day you start looking until the day you’re hired, there are strategic and financial issues to consider that may be more valuable to you in the long run.
    To start, job seekers should always begin with a plan to promote themselves both in person and online, and some aspects of that process may be tax deductible.
    Keep in mind that if you are already employed, you may want to consider certain timing and legal issues that will define how and when you search. And finally, taking the job requires a close look at benefits.
    It makes sense to discuss any potential job search with a qualified financial advisor who can evaluate your current financial circumstances, as well as offer tips on how to strengthen your preparations for retirement and other goals.
    Start with market research and improving your public profile.
    A recent Jobvite study notes that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles are the ranking social media options reaching employers and for industry hiring and pay projections, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook is a wide-ranging and constantly updated online resource for that data.

  • While on the Internet, I got a pop-up Amazon ad for a “United States Flag fleece blanket.”
    Yes, for just $11, you can enjoy watching Housewives of Bayonne, New Jersey, in comfort and style by sitting on the American flag!
    June 14 is Flag Day. Established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, it commemorates the adoption of the U.S. flag by the Second Continental Congress in 1777.
    And what better way to demonstrate patriotism than by wearing an American flag T-shirt that sops up all that sweat as you and your friends kick around an American flag printed soccer ball?
    Patriots do love to strut their colors!
    The dictionary defines a patriot as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies.” Some patriots will go to “a large popular chain store” this weekend, vigorously toting AK-47s to defend themselves against our own federal government while shopping for sales on Chinese-made products.
    Others will visit cemeteries to place flowers and American flags on the graves of fallen warriors.
    And yet others will trample the flag and burn it.

  • Industrial revenue bonds are a form of public-private partnership — a tool that governments can use to stimulate economic development, allowing them to offer tax subsidies for new or expanding businesses that create jobs and improve communities.
    Subsidies may include a property tax exemption, a gross receipts tax deduction and compensating tax exemption if certain equipment is purchased with bond proceeds, an exemption for bond interest from New Mexico income tax and, in some cases, an exemption of bond interest from federal income tax.
    These types of bond issues have been popular as a way to help New Mexico cities and towns compete — without assuming financial liability — for capital-intensive projects by extending tax subsidies to reduce the risks and costs for a company to move here.
    New Mexico cities and counties are authorized to issue IRBs.
    To be eligible for IRB financing in New Mexico, a project must encourage manufacturers and commercial businesses to move or expand here or to promote the state’s agricultural products or natural resources.
    IRB candidates include factories, assembly plants, warehouse and distribution hubs, nonprofit enterprises, health-care services, research facilities, industrial parks and corporate offices.

  • An ugly word, “shortfall,” appears twice at the bottom of page 7 of “2015 Post-Session Review,” the Legislative Finance Committee’s report on the 2015 legislative session.
    Based on what the LFC calls “a somewhat conservative scenario for expenditure growth,” revenue is projected to be $14.6 million less than spending in the 2017 budget year (FY 17) and $3.6 million short in FY 18.
    While FY 17 is a way off — it doesn’t start for another year — the idea of less money appearing than the amount of projected spending rattles the psyche of government people. The normal government world means more money each year to provide raises, expand programs and do new stuff. Less money requires ugly choices by elected officials, even conservative ones who are especially prone to copping out of their proclaimed financial righteousness.
    The problem will be solved, if only because the state Constitution requires a balanced budget. The state keeps a reserve fund, which offers the easy place to cover the shortfall. However, the reserves will take a $153 million hit this year because of reduced revenues and unexpected spending requirements.
    For the coming budget year (FY 16) that starts July 1, state government plans to spend $6.23 billion, $7 million less than anticipated revenue.

  • Joel Williams’ piece is a classic example of people with only a little information trying to convince you that all those professional climate scientists have missed his points even though they are the ones who did all the work he cites.
    Consider just one of the unsaid assumptions: that a single ice core at one place near a pole on the Earth is representative of global behavior…not!  As for recent temperature fluctuations, Williams’ graph disagrees with every one of the peer-reviewed papers — some 20 of them — in their determinations of global (not just in Europe or Greenland) temperature variations in the past. Since you presented graphs, here are a few to consider.
    The first shows that, just as planetary rotation and orbital cycles predict (so-called Malenkovitch Cycles, which govern large scale climate change over the past million or so years), the climate has been cooling down for the past 8,000 years or so as the Earth’s orientation to the sun slowly changes. And that’s why the recent unprecedentedly rapid warming is a matter of concern.
    On the graph: top is from an ice core, middle is measurement of altitude of treeline. Bottom is from stalactites in a cave.

  • I’m pleased to report that the County Manager’s monthly report, which provides information about county projects and performance, will become a standing agenda item on the second council meeting of each month.
    This change will give the county manager a structured opportunity to discuss high priority or time sensitive initiatives in the report, which has been distributed to council members for some time.
    Typical report topics include updates on ongoing construction projects or information about extraordinary achievements. For example, in this month’s report, there’s an update on the teen center remodel and on other major facilities projects; information about how the county is preparing for the summer tourist season; and activities at county parks and recreation facilities.
    By putting the report on the council agenda as a monthly briefing by the county manager, the public visibility of the information in the report will be elevated; and there will be a routine, recurring opportunity for council members and the public to ask specific questions about these issues.
    Additionally, it will add an important feedback loop that will help the county manager better understand concerns and perspectives from the council and the public.

  • We just completed our Great American Road Trip. Remember, “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” That was us — 5,900 miles and 26 days — but in a Toyota and including Canada. Close enough.
     Such a trip offers opportunity to think about New Mexico and to learn. Trip details would bore. A few observations are pertinent.
    Painted overpasses are this column’s proxy for misguided uses of tax money. Around 20 percent of federal gas tax revenue goes for non-highway uses from light rail to bike lanes, says Mac Zimmerman, policy director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group. Non-highway uses include painting overpasses, I presume.
    Digression: Unmentioned everywhere, so far as I know, is that bicyclists have no equivalent to gas taxes. Nor, I suspect, is there a bicycle drivers license. If gas taxes are a user fee of sorts, then cyclists are quite literally “free riders.”
    A couple of days passed before I started paying real attention to overpasses.
    This was in spite of seeing the all-time champion ugly painted overpass our first day. It was 10 miles west of Santa Rosa, pink and awful. A pink ribbon was painted at one side, perhaps indicating cancer “awareness.” The result of the paint was no less ugly for the good intentions.

  • The question is not whether history will be debated, but how.
    The key is telling how times affect deeds. If the past fades out, debate decays to mere sound and fury.
    The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is in the offing. To gain perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Park Service came to town last week. The agencies sought ways to display history that changed history, its actual sites, accurate accounts of details, a breadth of aspects and human interest.
    The largest gathering in their visit was on the wide lawn at Fuller Lodge last Tuesday. Discussing this column’s themes with the National Park Service found out their thoughts run parallel.
    As we did in 2010, our citizens group proposed telling environmental history. The idea has two parts, events and context:
    1) The park should relate the environmental history of nuclear weapons work.
    2) This history should be set in the context of the nation’s environmental history for the same period.
    In the 1940s, there were few laws, just common practices. The Manhattan Project — at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington — followed the waste-handling practices of the time.
    On this point, atomic scientists thought like industrial engineers.

  • The owner of a Houston area ambulance company receives a 97-month prison sentence for submitting $2.4 million in claims to Medicare for services that weren’t necessary and, in some cases, never even provided.
    Two unlicensed medical school graduates each get 72 months behind bars for acting as physicians in a Dallas area house call practice and billing Medicare $2.7 million for home visits and diagnostic tests never performed.
    A Houston man receives an 87-month prison term for recruiting Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, using their personal health information and billing the government for motorized wheelchairs never delivered.
    For too long, the crooks who were behind health care fraud were often one step ahead of law enforcement.
    But that’s finally changing, thanks to better coordination among federal agencies and the introduction of cutting-edge technology, more criminals are being brought to justice.
    The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice now have a task force that targets areas with suspicious Medicare billings.
    The “HEAT Team” crime investigators sift through claims data to identify billing patterns that suggest someone has run afoul of the law.

  • I feel cheated. A friend posted a link on Facebook saying that if I shared the post, Bill Gates would send me $5,000.
     And I never got the money!  Not one cent!
     It›s bad enough that I never got my share of the $14 billion that the Nigerian Governor of Consumer Affairs took out of the country. I was depending on that for my retirement.
    Long before the Internet, urban legends proliferated with the speed of mildew in wet laundry in New Jersey.
    The earliest memory I have of mysterious tales of the unknown was the “amazing associations” made between the assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln and President John F. Kennedy.
    Both were elected to Congress in ‘46.  Both were shot on a Friday. Lincoln was shot in the Ford Theater. Kennedy was shot riding in a Ford Lincoln.
    Clearly, this is no coincidence. It’s a government conspiracy!
    Personally, I think Kennedy was a clone, replaced after his alien abduction. He’s now a Borg and helping Plutonians plan their conquest of Earth.
    OK, if it’s printed, it must be true?
    Ringo Starr admitted that the Beatles did in fact “bury Paul” and that a twin took his place. I’ve also read that this was predicted by Nostradamus.

  • What the Environmental Sustainability Board is trying to do with this plastic bag ban (green initiative) is to do the right thing as an entity for the collective good of the people.
    This means to reduce, reuse and recycle through the use of greener products, will reduce the amount of waste we make — and impact we have on the environment — and is necessary for a better tomorrow for Los Alamos and the world.
    But when they do this they seek to have community involvement and they got quite what they did not expect with this community.
    We have “fouls” being called. We’ve got people holding to the idea of “consumer choice,” “convenience” and “ease of use.” These are all the labels for not wanting to change and do the right thing.
    Consumerism is eating planet Earth of house and home. There’s a lot of statistics out there...you know about how 80 percent of the nation’s consumptive water use is consumed, 45 percent of all land in the U.S. is used for agriculture, and so on.
    American consumerism could be labeled glutinous. A lack of willingness to use cloth grocery sacks instead of plastic bags could be labeled as laziness. Self-justification could be labeled as “consumer choice” in the name of “not doing the right thing.”

  • The workers’ compensation system, we sometimes observe, is a patchwork of contradictory and inconsistent rules that are hard to understand and even harder to live with.
    Our courts don’t make this any easier.
    We were reminded of this recently at the annual conference of the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Association, where we heard several recitations of the weirdness of workers’ compensation case law.
    One presentation, by attorneys Jim Rawley and Kelly Genova, focused narrowly on issues related to return to work.
    When a worker is recovered from an injury, something is supposed to happen: he goes back to his old job, or he chooses not to go back to the job, or because of his injury he can no longer do the job, or a hundred other possibilities.
    Workers’ compensation is a statutorily micromanaged system. The law is supposed to provide explicit guidance about who is obligated to do what for whom. But reality plays tricks.
    Do you know the TV show, “What Would You Do?” This column is like that game. Read and guess.

  • Despite unseasonably cold and wet weather during the weeks leading up to the Dog Jog, April 25 dawned sunny and calm, allowing hundreds of runners and walkers and their eager dogs to enjoy participating in the 18th Annual Dog Jog. Our new location for pre- and post-race activities at Rover Park was a big hit with humans and canines alike.
    This year’s Dog Jog raised over $14,000 for Friends of the Shelter. Friends of the Shelter (FOS) is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to abandoned animals and to pets and their owners in northern New Mexico. Our catastrophic care program pays for veterinary care for sick or injured animals that have no owners or whose owners cannot afford the treatment. Our spay/neuter program provides grants to our partner organizations, including the Española Valley Humane Society and the McKinley County Animal Shelter so that they can provide low- or no-cost spay/neuter services to their clients. FOS also encourages responsible pet ownership and promotes adoption of shelter animals through education and outreach.

  • Cougars and bears: Are they game, predators, varmints, wildlife in need of protection?
    The state Game and Fish Department and the Game Commission are once again in the crosshairs of conservation groups over proposals to control cougar and bear populations.
    The department revisits its plans every four years and suggests it’s time to trim both populations. The public debate has focused on numbers, drought, timing and trapping.
    Like a whirlwind raising dust, the discussion also drags in the old welfare rancher vs. tree-hugger feud. We hear that Game and Fish coddles ranchers and that the commission is a bunch of good-’ol-boy political appointees.
    Let’s dispense with those first.
    If your livelihood depends on livestock, you’ll lean on the department for protective measures. And the commission has always been political. Gov. Bill Richardson caught flak for appointing campaign donors to the commission, and he certainly wasn’t the first.
    This same commission in 2013 accepted the resignation of department director Jim Lane, a Kentuckian with no interest in biology, who would have painted a bullseye on the side of every predator in the state.
    So ranchers and conservationists aren’t going to agree. But there are some troubling aspects of this debate.