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Opinion

  • Recently, this column looked at the Legislative Council Service (LCS) report on the legislative session and considered the budget (the biggest part of the picture), listed state government’s major functions, and briefly discussed Medicaid.
    Today we look, from the policy view, as before, at legislative decisions affecting those major functions and touch on a few of the tiny and always interesting items. “Less than very seldom” is how often really big changes happen in state government.
    Scrounging money required considerable creativity during the session. The term “skimming money” isn’t usually associated with doing good, legal things. But skimming money is the LCS description for pulling money from “various reserves.” House bill 311 did the deed.
    Public schools get 44.3 percent of the money budgeted through the General Fund, the state’s operating account. Education changes amounted to bits and pieces, the same as for all of state government in this year of reduced spending. One change, following the precedent from the 2008 recession, allows school districts to change requirements for class size, length of the school day and other factors. This suggests Santa Fe doesn’t know all the details of running the schools.

  • My heart aches over the stories I hear about heroin overdoses. Local fathers post stories about their sons and daughters, fatal victims of the heroin market. Police conduct raids. The illegal marketing demand continues to fund Afghanistan poppy farmers. Other illegal drug markets cause societal issues, as meth labs contaminate homes and acreage. A house in my neighborhood is selling for half its former market value because of meth lab damage. More than ever, we live in a drug culture.
    When I google “heroin,” however, my top hit is an article by the National Institute of Drug Abuse indicating that nearly half of young people who inject heroin reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin.
    As bad as our illegal drug market has become, the potential for the abuse of prescription drugs is a much more pervasive problem throughout America today.
    This conversation is frequently fueled by stories about yet another superstar and his/her battles with prescription drugs, the most recent being that of Prince. I am not sufficiently familiar with his pain and challenges to comment on his possible addictions, but I am saddened at his plight and that of millions of Americans who deal with chronic pain.

  • BY LORETTA HALL
    Guest Columnist

  • The great blessing that science gives us humans is a growing supply of knowledge.  
    The great curse that science puts on us is a growing supply of knowledge.
    And everything we learn brings the next unknown, which may be a new cure, a new cause of harm, or a sizable chance of both.  
    The thorny work for us is to blend new knowledge safely into a busy world. Democracy slows the work to a tortoise’s pace, with so much time given to the enormous patchwork of public opinions.  
    So we keep doing our best to minimize the risks that are intertwined in a world of new knowledge, unknowns, and opinions of every shade. Our lot is called the human condition.
    Such struggles are often in the news, with scant history. Lead made news recently.  
    Hazards from lead predate Ancient Rome and were clarified as science grew. In the last century, science learned specific chances of harm to different people from lead in different amounts for enough time.  
    A proper question to ask is, “Should we get rid of lead in painted walls and lead in working pipes as soon as we have that knowledge?” After all, some children will eat leaded paint from walls. Lead pipe systems are mostly handled better.   

  • In the first 15 months of its CreativeFund program, The Loan Fund helped more than 100 creative entrepreneurs in Albuquerque and Santa Fe secure a loan or receive training or advice to help turn their creative talents into successful business ventures.
    The program has been so successful, in fact, that The Loan Fund is planning to expand its offerings statewide.
    It’s all part of an effort by the nonprofit – a community development financial institution with an economic and social improvement mission – to serve a group of typically debt-averse individuals who support themselves through creative endeavors of some form, said Matt Loehman, The Loan Fund’s director of development and special projects.
    Changing mind-sets
    Creative enterprises are the primary source of income for more than 43,000 New Mexicans, according to a 2015 report by the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. That’s equivalent to the number of New Mexicans who work in construction and 50 percent more than the number of manufacturing workers.

  • Gary Johnson is saying something worth listening to. It’s about the conduct of the presidential election.
    New Mexico’s former governor is running for president again as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. He probably will be the only third-party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states. I am not a fan of Johnson or his political philosophy, but he’s absolutely right about the process.
    He tried to run as a Republican but was not given a chance to appear on Republican debate stages because he was not high enough in the polls. As he has said, the only way to get higher in the polls is to get enough exposure on TV. Debates are one critically important way to do that. The other way is through all the interviews Johnson didn’t get.
    Last fall and into the spring, when Republican candidates were interviewed, they were usually asked to comment on Donald Trump, and were not given a chance to talk about their own views on national policy. It was disgraceful.
    Senator Bernie Sanders didn’t get much exposure, either, you recall.
    Way back before the public was invited, a few network executives apparently decided which candidates were going to get coverage and which would be ignored.

  • If you are reading this late Wednesday afternoon, you are done! Oh sure, I mean most of the kids are done with school, but in many – and I say many – ways, we as the parents are also done.
    If you are also the parent of a high school student, I’m sorry, there’s still one more day ahead for you. Oh sure, you will hear about it entirely tonight and again in the morning until they get on the bus or drive to school for the last time this year.
    If you need a comeback, hey that snow day – as late as it was – was glorious! It was ridiculous if you lived in White Rock, but no less glorious to stay in our pajamas that morning.
    Oh and OK if you are married to someone that works in a school, you will get a repeat of what happened on Thursday again on Friday.
    This day and age, we often hear how kids today don’t appreciate the people that give us the freedoms we appreciate today.
    I would like to say that as we approach the last few days of school, local teenagers are still working at letting our service men and women know they are appreciated throughout the year.
    So while many will spend the weekend enjoying parties and an extra day off, take the time to give thanks to those that gave their lives in honor of our country and also appreciate those that serve today.

  • Mediocrity is on full display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque. I assume that the mediocrity, an aggregation of little things, wasn’t there on purpose. But it was there.
    Lured by well executed publicity, I went to see the underwhelming (small and crowded) exhibit, “America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66,” that opened May 14. My idea was to consider New Mexico as a road, no particular beginning or end, nothing specific happening except magnificent sunsets to inspire political rhetoric and cultural impressions on the horizon.
    First, let’s be certain; the museum (nuclearmuseum.org) is well worth seeing for the history of the Manhattan Project and of the atomic bomb. It is on Eubank Blvd., a few minutes south of I-40.
    In the Route 66 exhibit this sentence grabbed. “Route 66 became an icon for travel in the 1950s.” I think that means Route 66 became a symbol for travel, similar to a religious icon in church. The signs describing Route 66 items were loosely mounted and just enough askew that I noticed.

  • BY BOB HAGAN
    Coffee on a Cold Morning

  • BY AGNES NOONAN
    President, WESST

  • As we get closer to primary elections, you’re going to hear two stories about taxes.
    Story No. 1: New Mexico’s taxes are a dreadful burden on its citizens. Story No. 2: New Mexico’s big corporate tax giveaway in 2013 has eroded the tax base so much that revenues have plummeted and responsible public officials must raise revenues.
    First, we’ve heard scare stories about our tax burden for years, and for just as long various studies have told us that we’re actually middling.
    This year, WalletHub said New Mexico ranked 27th in state tax burden as a percentage of personal income. Our gross receipts tax burden is fifth highest in the nation. But the total tax burden, of 8.67 percent, is far lower than New York (13 percent), Hawaii (12 percent), and Maine and Vermont (11 percent). The lowest was Alaska, at about 5 percent.
    On the other hand, WalletHub placed New Mexico 41st in the return for taxes paid. This is based on 20 categories of education, health, safety, economy, infrastructure and pollution. We took a big hit for our sorry economy. Yes, you can hold elected officials responsible for the ranking and the economy. Colorado’s return on investment was third, Texas was 15th, and Arizona was 19th.

  • As the oldest Baby Boomers turn 70, there is an opportunity to compare among cities the factors in successful aging. Disclosure: The Baby Boomer group includes me.
    The analysis comes from the Milken Institute (milkeninstitute.org) of California.
    While Milken talks of aging, boomers in the audience need to admit something obvious and un-boomerlike; 70 is old. So is 68, which is Hillary Clinton’s age. Donald Trump is 69. This old-people-for-president bit is the weirdest part of this very weird presidential year. But I digress.
    Milken provides two lists, one ranking large cities, one ranking small cities. The title is “Best Cities for Successful Aging.”
    Of the 100 large cities, Albuquerque places 67th. Among the 252 small cities, Santa Fe is 76th; Las Cruces, 140th; and Farmington, 169th.
    Cold places rank highest for aging. Madison, Wisconsin, is best large city. Iowa City, Iowa, 177 miles away, leads the small. Both are state-university cities, home to, respectively, the University of Wisconsin and University of Iowa. Both are in the Big Ten. All coincidental, I presume. Weather gets the biggest weight among the general factors. Other than drinking, weather is Madison’s worst rank. Madison and Iowa City must do well on other factors.

  • BY VERONICA C. GARCIA
    Executive Director, New Mexico Voices for Children

  • BY BOB HAGAN
    Special to the Monitor

  • Last winter, as legislators were starting to shrink the state budget to match declining oil revenues, Dr. Daniel I. Fine was trying to put his finger on what’s normal for the oil industry these days. He came up with so many variations on normal, it seems there is no normal.
    Fine, who is associate director of the New Mexico Center for Energy Policy at New Mexico Tech, predicted production in New Mexico would drop 100,000 barrels per day.
    “That’s how serious this is,” he told the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “OPEC is targeting high-cost producers in New Mexico, Texas and North Dakota… We are the main threat. Every barrel of oil we reduce, they will produce the equivalent.”
    I was trying to get my head around little ol’ New Mexico being a threat, as Fine continued.
    In an oversupplied world market, he said, “Saudi Arabia is in a price war with the United States. The Saudis can continue like this for two years. We’re thinking, how do we return to normal. A colleague in Bahrain said, ‘This is normal: $25 a barrel.’ Our normal is a new normal, and we conflict with what is normal.”

  • CHICAGO—Be careful who you talk to in bars. That’s one lesson from a conversation in the elegant bar at the Palmer House hotel in downtown Chicago.
    We talked to a manager from a large nationwide financial institution. This man is a market supervisor (or something like that) for New Mexico, El Paso and Oklahoma. Our discussion considered the differences between Arizona and New Mexico. It included the usual banking structure differences from 30 years ago, but also got to factors including resorts such as the Arizona Biltmore and Camelback and professional golf, which decades ago put a national focus on Arizona.
    The understanding from the conversation is that this manager and, by extension, his very, very large financial institution employer, is mystified by the New Mexico economy.
    The Chicago chat is just one happening from our recent two-week road trip through the Midwest.
    Driving northeast through Colorado on I-76, we came across the welcome center in Julesburg. The men’s restroom was closed. In its place were seven porta-potties.

  • “Sustainability” permeates our world. But what is sustainability?
    Consider this comment from new Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent Raquel Reedy: “The fact is that our students move many times. Consequently, there is very little sustainability, very little consistency where children stay at one school the entire time.”
    Likely, whatever Reedy means by “sustainability” and APS sustainability measures is different from the meaning of the people who proposed sustainability resolutions for consideration at the annual meeting of PNM Resources Inc., parent company of Public Service Company and a Texas utility.
    PNM’s board of directors wisely recommended voting against the proposals.
    For those not owning stock, a brief primer is that corporation divides ownership into shares. People can buy those shares. I bought 1.5 shares of Disney for my new grandson, Christopher. Shareowners have a slight say in what a company does, depending in part on the number of shares owned. But shareholders can also ask the company to do things thorough proposals to the annual meeting or by asking questions at the annual meeting.

  • By JOHN BARTLIT
    New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air & Water

    The time has come for regulation to be more businesslike. A healthy dose of market zeal has been missing for too long.
    Regrettably, politicking will not bring needed change.  
    One old campaign banner says regulation is the scourge of free markets. But that reading forgets that large-scale “free” markets owe their steady success to regulations.
    Long-thriving markets are built on the bedrock of rules that standardize weights and measures, rules of contracts, and rules to enforce both.
    After government had established these necessary parts, trade could reach across regions.   
    Another old snapshot says regulation stifles innovation. Whether it was true at one time, it is distinctly untrue today. Regulation today is a storehouse of unmet needs for inventions.
    In the Digital Age, entrepreneurs search far and wide for new markets. The searches skim past regulation, as if it were fine as is. It is not fine.
    Good prospects to innovate are overlooked, which leaves regulation encumbered with hobbly methods that innovations crowd out of other fields.

  • Gov. Susana Martinez is taking another swing at DWI. Last week, she announced a contract with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to observe DWI court hearings and publicize the results on Twitter. It’s strange but has possibilities.
    With a two-year, $800,000 contract, MADD will place monitors in courtrooms in Bernalillo, Doña Ana, McKinley, Rio Arriba and San Juan counties. They will gather information about DWI case outcomes and post them on social media.
    One thing I’ve heard, from both experts and legislators, is that the criminal justice system isn’t working. We have laws on the books, but prosecutors and judges plead these cases down. We don’t know why.
    The MADD monitors might help answer that question, depending on the information they gather. We need to know the judge’s thinking and what the mitigating factors are, and you can’t deliver that in a tweet. Tweets are good for the quick comment, the wise crack. They generate buzz for a moment and then they’re gone.
    How are we supposed to learn what happens in court and spot problem areas? Call me old fashioned, but I want to see a report.

  • Local Democrats responded to Gov. Susana Martinez’s April 14 speech to a big Republican dinner in New Mexico with: “The policy priorities New Mexico has been suffering through the past five years under Governor Martinez are exactly in line with the reckless and racist priorities of Trump and other Republican candidates,” said Debra Haaland, Democratic Party chairwoman.
    While it’s tough to argue Donald Trump is anything other than reckless and racist, pasting that label on Martinez is hardly civil. Democrats note: Haaland’s comment is simply the first one I noticed to provide the contra-example for today’s consideration of political civility. Republicans say the same stupid stuff.
    Further, I consider the labeling an attack by one candidate on an opponent’s record as “negative campaigning” to be weak. Candidates must discuss the opponent’s record and ideas in order to create contrast. The question is how that record is discussed.
    Recently Paul Ryan and David Brooks provided meditations on political civility. Consideration is in order as we swing into our campaigns in New Mexico.
    In his Feb. 26 column in the New York Times, Brooks argued in favor of politics as the best way to accomplish things in our society, the alternative being authoritarianism.