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Opinion

  • Food stamps have been a battleground for two years.
    On Jan. 1, with New Mexico’s unemployment the highest in the nation, a new rule kicked in that returns pre-recession requirements. Thousands of New Mexicans must work, with or without pay, to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
    Nonprofits, religious organizations and the public objected to the new rules and some even sued. The state Human Services Department modified a few rules and pushed them through.
    We’d like to think this move would create more wage earners, but that’s unlikely. Economic reality and systemic weaknesses will sandbag the administration’s wishful thinking.
    The new rule requires most able-bodied, childless adults aged 18 to 49 to show 80 hours a month of approved work to qualify for SNAP, formerly called food stamps. Otherwise, they get just three months’ benefits in three years. On Oct. 1, people aged 16 to 59 and parents of children 13 and older will come under the rules. That’s 24,000 people, HSD estimates.
    The idea is that these people can work without pay in a job that “gives a person experience in a job or industry, tests a person’s job skills, or involves volunteer time and effort to a not-for-profit organization,” the regulation says. They can also participate in state-supervised activities like filling out job applications and contacting employers.

  • As best my research has been able to determine, testing American drivers’ skills as a prerequisite to operating motor vehicles on public arteries began in 1899, and it started in two U.S. cities, Chicago and New York City.
    The purpose of that testing was to validate motorists’ ability safely to use and operate all those automobiles and other motorized locomotives that had suddenly started lumbering along the local roadways and streets which previously had served mainly as thoroughfares for horses and buggies, oxen and wagons.
    The new tests also measured a would-be motorist’s “knowledge of the road,” including speed limits, stop-and-go regulations, rules governing left turns and right turns and all the other protocols involving the art of operating motor vehicles.
    When a person passed one of those tests, he or she would be licensed to drive and would be given an actual artifact known as a “driver’s license” which validated his or her ability safely to drive.
    It wasn’t nuclear science or brain surgery, of course. It was simply a very sensible thing to do. If you are going to have all these vehicles running around on public roadways, make sure you set down some rules to ensure that persons operating motorized vehicles have passed the required tests.
    So what have we done with this common sense arrangement?
    Well, here in New Mexico lately, we have pretty much screwed it up.

  • When people leave an area, unemployment should drop. That’s because, so the theory goes, the people leaving (migration is the technical term) have some tendency to be unemployed. That doesn’t seem to apply here. Migration declined ever so slightly in 2015 from 2014, but unemployment stayed essentially the same.
    The applicable theory appears to be the old Lew Wallace maxim, “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” Wallace was governor of New Mexico from 1878 to 1881.
    During the year ended July 1, 2015, there were 13,352 people pulling up their New Mexico stakes and leaving, according to the annual population estimates released by the Census Bureau Dec. 22. The population dropped 458 during the year.
    For the year ending July 1, 2014, it was 14,154 departures and an overall population decline of 1,323. The decline in out migration was 802 people, or 5.7 percent,
    The departure total since the April 2010 census is 43,041 with 27,506 going during the last two years.

  • BY MARITA NOON
    Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great

  • On rare occasions, the world opens itself to being inspected in new and unusual ways. Such a time came in 1883 on a scale that was unthinkable.
         Some story lines of the past grow larger in hindsight. In 1883, Karl Marx died; Bernard Kroger opened his first grocery store; and Charles Fritts used selenium and gold to make the first working, solid-state solar cell. Their aftereffects are with us today.
         The larger news was in August that year: A volcanic island exploded in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra. The blast went round the world and turned the island with the oddly harsh name – “Krakatoa” – into a treasure trove for science.
         Effects of the rarity advanced the ways in which we know the world. The stories fill a global canvas.
         Evidence says the blast was the loudest sound on Earth in recorded history. The British ship Norman Castle was 40 miles from Krakatoa at the time of the explosion. The ship’s captain wrote in his log, “So violent are the explosions that the ear-drums of over half my crew have been shattered.”

  • On Dec. 14, the governor announced her DWI proposals for the Legislature, and within days she was apologizing for an employee bash and her own behavior after she committed GWI – governing while intoxicated.
    If you are one of the three people who didn’t hear the recording, you missed a tipsy Susana Martinez haranguing a desk clerk and two police dispatchers. Somebody complained about noise coming from a staffer’s hotel room, where the governor insisted six people were “eating peetzahhhh.”
    After the internet joking subsided, local and national pundits began pronouncing her star fallen.
    Maybe, but we still need to talk about DWI.
    The governor wants legislators to toughen up DWI penalties – adding jail time for certain repeat DWI offenders, expanding habitual-offender laws to include felony DWI offenses, and cracking down on people who lend vehicles to a DWI offender with a suspended or revoked license. She also wants to have volunteers monitor DWI cases in some counties.

  • Let’s humiliate the schools a little more, says the state Public Education Department. That’s a great way to motivate and encourage students.
    While this is going on, there’s a bright spot.
    The humiliation: PED has released the “grades” of schools throughout the state, and the grades are a little lower than last year. This, says the department, is because of the standardized PARCC tests that were forced on school districts. Students didn’t do well on the unfamiliar tests, so the test results depressed the evaluations of the schools. All very logical, unless your motive is to give some encouragement to a state that is constantly being beaten up by low rankings.
    Here’s the bright spot.
    A school in Albuquerque came up with a program that empowers kids, brings parents into the education process, makes good use of school facilities, involves teachers and community volunteers in a friendly way, and supports learning, all at the same time. And it provides a free meal.
    The program is called Homework Diner. It started at Manzano Mesa Elementary School, located in a low-income neighborhood in Albuquerque. It has spread to several other schools.

  • BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • Most action during the 2016 legislative session beginning Jan. 19 looks to come in bits and pieces.
    Beyond the bits, the action will be political posturing for the 2016 election and, maybe, incremental movement on the big topics of tax reform and highways.
    This conclusion comes from more than four hours of listening to senior state government officials, “interested stakeholders,” four legislators and Scott Darnell, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Susana Martinez. The occasion was the annual legislative outlook conference of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, held Dec. 17 in Albuquerque.
    The constraints are lack of money for anything exciting and the governor’s agenda, or crabby types might say, the non-agenda other than education.
    “New money,” projected at $231.7 million, is defined as expected recurring revenue in the coming year minus recurring spending this year. That $231.7 million is up 3.7 percent from the current year appropriation but down $62 million from the August forecast.
    David Abbey, director of the Legislative Finance Committee, began with recounting past crunch times for the state. “I am confident we can get through it again,” he said.

  • BY STEVE PEOPLES
    Associated Press

  • BY DR. L. JOHN VAN TIL
    Visions and Values

  • By Marita Noon
    Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great

    The Sierra Club has announced their next effort: “to prevent the extraction of fossil fuels right from the start” – a campaign known as “Keep it in the ground.” The plan, reported The Hill, is to “shut down coal mines, and crack down on hydraulic fracturing, along with stopping the transportation of fossil fuels in oil trains, pipelines and coal export terminals.”
    The plan sounds ludicrous to anyone who understands energy or follows the topic – after all, Germany’s plans to “go green” have failed miserably – but activists who are committed to the cause are buoyed by several recent victories.
    A post, “Keep It in the Ground Movement Scores Another Victory Over Fossil Fuel Interests,” on Greenpeace.org states: “Remember when we told you that the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground was gaining momentum? We weren’t making that up.” The author then goes on to list the “much-discussed” successes:
    • Shell’s departure from the Arctic;
    • Rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline; and
    • Exxon’s history of climate denial.
    She then touts something that slipped under the radar for most news watchers: on Dec. 7, the Bureau of Land Management “ announced a last minute delay to a fossil fuel lease sale,” which the post claims is due to “grassroots opposition.”

  • By Marilee Dannemann
    Special to the Monitor

    High school kids come around dropping leaflets at my door asking me to donate a bag full of food. This time of year, there are food drives everywhere. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t.
    It makes more sense to give money. It’s less inspired but more practical. I was reminded of that recently by Wally Verdooren, chief development officer at Roadrunner Food Bank.
    Because of discounts and bulk purchasing, the food bank can provide five meals for $1. I can’t give a can of tuna fish for that amount.
    Don’t jump all over me. I don’t want to quash anyone’s enthusiasm. Many people are more motivated to give something tangible than to write a check. We want to encourage the teens, church groups and everybody else to do whatever works to help feed those in need.
    According to Roadrunner, more than 17 percent of New Mexicans are food insecure, meaning they can’t count on regular access to food. That’s one in six New Mexicans, or more than 360,000 people. It includes 28 percent of the state’s children, or 145,000.
    Roadrunner is New Mexico’s main nonprofit food assistance hub, working throughout the state with partner distribution organizations and more than 500 local agencies – food pantries, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and senior centers.

  • An announcement last week that New Mexico is the worst run state in the country stirred the political wasp nest.
    It was quite a Christmas gift to Democrats and political bloggers, and indictments of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration flowed.
    The governor and her people predictably respond to bad news with an inarticulate jumble of blame and defensiveness, this time invoking education reform, repeating her mantra of making our economy “less dependent on the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and ending with “the decades-long failed status quo.” Blah, blah.
    In her defense, there’s a lot more to be said, and a chunk of the study was wrong.
    State rankings appear frequently, and they’re all over the board. In 2015, New Mexico was ninth on a well-being index, 49th in financial literacy, fifth in strictness of traffic laws but second in worst drivers, third in school safety but 42nd in school quality, and fourth among Lonely Planet’s World’s Best Value Destinations.
    CNBC said this is the 24th best state for doing business; Forbes said it’s the third worst. Kiplinger’s said New Mexico is third worst place for retirement; WalletHub said it’s the 11th best place for military personnel to retire.

  • We are the crime leader among the 50 states. Fixing that situation, or at least mitigating it, should be our first priority. Nothing else counts. If we aren’t safe, we can’t function. Talk to the people of San Bernardino, where the incident was terrorism, or Colorado Springs.
    I admit to not focusing on crime in general. I figured that while the Albuquerque police had a nasty problem, probably it was a culture and training problem and would be tended in time. Silly me, middle class and all that, living in a semi-upscale Albuquerque neighborhood near the University of New Mexico that is, yes, complete with the occasional crime.
    While I admit my naiveté, I have some acquaintance with crime, albeit of the mild sort. My dad did 4.5 months in the federal pen on some fraud matters. I have been on a couple of criminal jury panels. My mom, at age 91, was mugged on her driveway.
    Here is the relevant statement: “Colorado’s total crime rate (2,840 crimes per 100,000 population) has decreased by 36 percent since peaking in 2005, leading to an improved ranking. Vermont (1,620) ranked first in 2014 while New Mexico (4,140) ranked last. The crime rate decreased in all but four states from 2013 to 2014.”

  • As 2015 closes, it’s déjà vu all over again for the New Mexico economy. As in 2014, we’re competing for the dubious honor of the nation’s worst performing state economy.
    The differences this time are the measure – unemployment rate instead of job losses – and the competition. The preliminary figures for the first six months of 2014 showed job losses. In October, only climate-change-regulation ravaged West Virginia had a higher rate, at 6.9 percent. Ours was 6.8 percent.
    But we beat West Virginia in a key area, reports the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which said, “The only significant over-the-year (unemployment) rate increase was in New Mexico (plus 0.6 percentage point).”
    By way of comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate was 5 percent in October. Colorado’s was 3.8 percent. Some maps illustrate the Colorado contrast. The maps accompany the announcement of the new edition of the “Toward a More Competitive Colorado” report, released Nov. 18 by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. See metrodenver.org/research-reports/toward-a-more-competitive-colorado.

  • My local daily newspaper does relatively little by way of covering the presidential primary campaigns currently under way back in places like New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa, so last week I checked online for some updates.
    It was quite informative.
    The night before, I had heard on national television that prominent Republican movers and shakers are increasingly worried by the prospect that billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump seems to have a sizeable lead in the race for their nomination.
    It is still almost a year before any Republican primary voters in any states can cast their ballots on the issue, and, in politics, a lot can happen in the course of a year. Nonetheless, reports have it that Republican Party insiders think they would lose the 2016 election if Trump were at the top of their ticket.
    Too divisive, they say. Arrogant. A bully. He’s already alienated whole blocs of voters and now he’s even intimated that CNN should pay him $5 million simply to appear alongside the other candidates at the next GOP debate.
    There could well be something to those concerns. Trump does come across as boorish at times. He stretches the truth, makes things up, like that yarn about watching whole crowds of Muslims cheering in New Jersey when the twin towers crashed to the ground on 9/11.

  • By Finance New Mexico

  • 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.