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Opinion

  • BY BOB HAGAN
    Coffee on a Cold Morning

  • If I were planning to run for the Legislature, my list of priorities would look a little different from those you usually see. Instead of reciting the usual passionate platitudes about education and economic development, I would talk about saving taxpayer money while improving the performance of government agencies by means of methodical administrative reforms.
    Don’t worry, I’m not running, but I have been repeatedly frustrated that I’ve never seen a single campaign promise along these lines. Every now and then when a candidate has knocked on my door, literature in hand, I’ve invited the candidate in and talked about this. It doesn’t do any good. Administrative reform is tedious and unglamorous, is poorly understood by the public, and most of the time it doesn’t produce any bragging rights.
    It should especially be a focus of attention for governors and candidates for governor. Just now, with the state’s desperate need to save money, the governor is trying some things that may or may not produce results.
    Gov. Susana Martinez announced a few weeks ago that she was considering consolidating departments, but the idea disappeared down a black hole pretty quickly. That is probably because of the pummeling her staff must have taken from irate constituents the minute this thought was expressed.

  • BY D. DOUWD MUSKA
    Rio Grande Foundation

  • BY CLAUDIA INFANTE
    New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership

  • Legislators are trying to get their arms around truancy in the state. Discussion about the most promising bill, the bipartisan HB 437, illustrates just how complicated the problem is.
    We have 54,000 kids who are habitually truant, which means they have 10 or more unexcused absences in a school year. That should take your breath away.
    Studies and common sense tell us that these kids are most likely to drop out.
    Four lawmakers whose political coloration ranges from conservative to liberal have teamed up to carry the bill: Reps. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque; Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, James Townsend, R-Artesia, and Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. On Saturday, the most conservative, Townsend, and most liberal, Ruilobo, sat together to sell their bill to the House Education Committee.
    HB 437 calls for earlier and more intensive interventions. It requires schools to have a family resources program, work with agencies and community organizations, and notify parents. It would suspend drivers licenses.
    Legislators used as models successful programs in Carlsbad and Albuquerque’s Atrisco Heritage High School.

  • BY NATHAN SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • House Bill 412 is a big one. The title requires 307 words. It begins, “An act relating to taxation…” The second to the last section – that’s section 155 out of 157– requires 1,028 words to list the sections of existing law that would be repealed.
    The sponsors are Rep. Jason Harper, Rio Rancho Republican, and two venerable Democratic senators, John Arthur Smith of Deming and Carlos Cisneros of Questa. Bipartisanship!
    The bill came from the interim Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy Committee. Harper was the chair and Cisneros the vice chair. Smith was a member.
    A general and understandable (by you and me) summary of what became HB 412 is found in the minutes of the committee’s final meeting, held Dec. 16. It said: “The elimination of most GRT deductions, exemptions and credits is a key part of the legislation and could vastly expand the tax base with a correspondingly lower sales tax rate…  the state sales tax rate would be around 2.5 percent, with an average total local and state rate of around five percent.”

  • Last week I drove from Palomas, the Mexican town opposite Columbus, all the way west to Agua Prieta, the twin to Douglas in Arizona. The highway first swings south to skirt the Bootheel and then strikes back north to within a few miles of the border, where it claws its way up the northernmost slopes of the formidable Sierra Madre.
    Two narrow lanes squeezed between sheer cliffs and precipitous canyons, the road climbs a half mile in fewer than 10.
    There are neither shoulders nor guard-rails; only the little roadside shrines warn of the perils beyond the next hairpin turn.
    The blacktop is battered daily by the passage of hundreds of heavy trucks, some of them pulling double trailers up the steep grades. Bad as it is, this is one of just two highways over the mountains for hundreds of miles to the south.
    At the top of the pass you cross the Continental Divide at 6,500 feet. From there you can look down and see the black line of the border fence running ruler straight across the plain far below.
    The drive back from Douglas on the American side is a cruise-controlled siesta compared to the crossing from Chihuahua to Sonora. On NM 9 you follow the old railroad bed for mile after mile of gentle curves and long, level straightaways.

  • Sherlock Holmes, the fabled stalker of clues, was a charismatic spur to science in the cause of catching wrongdoers and clearing the innocent.
         His popular intrigues taught methods of close observation and simple physics. See the hidden footprint there. So how could this speck of blood land here? ... Elementary, my dear Watson.
         Sherlock Holmes readers delight in how the master sleuth and his doctor friend used their specialized fields of knowledge to solve dark mysteries. Two of their specialties were exotic poisons and animal behaviors. Any full-blooded Holmes fan can name classic cases of each.  
         Ballistics, fingerprints and handwriting bring other facts to bear that can weigh for or against a crime suspect. Newer tools include DNA evidence and a range of smart cameras and phones.
         All such advances for probing and proving the story are now known as “forensic science.”
         The term “forensic” itself tells a story. Forensic is from the Latin
    forensis, meaning “of or before the forum.” In history, Romans decided
    whether an accused person was guilty or not guilty by speeches made before the forum. 

  • FINANCE NEW MEXICO

  • What’s up with the governor and the state’s judicial system?
    As she directed some of her angrier vetoes to the courts in the last few years, we had to wonder. This year, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels said the courts are “on life support.”
    Remember that our founding New Mexico fathers intended the three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – to be on an equal footing.
    Let’s look at a timeline.
    Jan. 22, 2011: Daniels told legislators the judiciary had cut to the bone, closing some magistrate courts, reducing expenses, freezing hiring and leaving vacancies unfilled, even as workload increased because of the economic downturn.
    Jan. 25, 2011: Daniels ruled against Gov. Susana Martinez, who tried to keep two environmental regulations from taking effect. “No one is above the law,” Daniels said.
    Also in 2011 District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe ruled against Martinez’s attempt to have the Motor Vehicle Department verify the residency status of foreign nationals with New Mexico driver’s licenses.
    2012: A judge in the Second Judicial District ordered Martinez to remove the names of most people on the state’s payroll information from the Sunshine Portal. She published the names elsewhere.

  • Finance New Mexico

  • Check out license plates the next time there is an opportunity to cruise a big parking lot, say at the neighborhood supermarket.
    My informal supermarket survey suggests that about half the plates are the new, cool blue centennial plates with the rest the traditional red and yellow. Perhaps half the red and yellow plates (a quarter of the total) show some fading and half of those are significantly dimmed, faded enough so as to be difficult to read. For a few, the red of the numbers will be a faint hint against the remaining yellow of the background. For another few, the sheeting, as the industry calls it, will be dried and peeling. 3M (3M.com) makes sheeting.
    The ugly balloon plates, which seem especially prone to fading, are no more. This design dates to 1999, making the plates a legacy of Gov. Gary Johnson.
    At Santa Teresa, the hordes of Texas license plates are neither faded nor peeling. Likewise on a recent trip to Arizona we saw all of two faded plates, both of them specialty plates.
    The only number I found for a New Mexico vehicle count was 1.7 million in 2009, from  Statista, a German firm. In 2014, those vehicles were driven by the nation’s second worst drivers, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

  • BY STEVE RESNICK
    Owner, Capitol Computer/Finance New Mexico

  • When Bill Richardson started flirting with a plan to run for president, some of his actions as governor looked suspiciously as if he were using New Mexico to advance his political ambitions.
    It’s hard to avoid the same suspicion about Gov. Susana Martinez. She’s taken a number of actions over her two terms that have seemed to be more about piling up sound bites for somebody else’s policy checklist than what’s best for the state.
    Now she’s officially a lame duck. It may be hard for her to run for any higher office, not because of any lack of competency or accomplishments but because of the infamous Christmas party incident of 2015. (If you don’t remember this, please Google “Susana Martinez pizza.”)
    But she still could have political ambitions in a less obvious direction. We can watch to see how this plays out in the bills she chooses to sign or veto.
    It’s widely understood that New Mexico’s tax system could use a major overhaul. In order to do that, policymakers must be able to engage in give-and-take, which means some taxes may go down and others may go up. Gov. Martinez’s inflexibility on raising any taxes has looked like she wants to preserve her anti-tax bragging rights, not like she wants to solve the problem.

  • BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • BY KATHLEENE PARKER
    Guest Columnist

  • BY FINANCE NEW MEXICO

  • BY BOB HAGAN
    Special to the Montor

  • The Detroit News on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos:

    Betsy DeVos has endured weeks of attacks on her character — and her mission to make schools work for children. But Michigan’s billionaire philanthropist has prevailed, despite the best efforts of Democrats and teachers unions.
    We’re glad for that.
    It was certainly not an easy victory. Following the defection of two Republican senators last week, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, Vice President Mike Pence needed to cast the tie-breaking vote, which was unprecedented in Cabinet nominations.
    Democrats tried their darnedest to sway one more Republican to defect, spending 24 hours repeating union talking points on the Senate floor.
    The teachers unions have tried to convince politicians, teachers and even parents that DeVos will dismantle public education as it exists. That’s not true, and they know it, but to their credit they launched an effective campaign to discredit DeVos that almost worked.
    The federal Department of Education is in major need of an overhaul — one that will reduce its ever growing bureaucracy, which only causes headaches for districts and isn’t making a dent in academic performance.