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Opinion

  • The best state sales tax systems (or gross receipts tax, as it is called in New Mexico) are broad, low, and don’t tax necessities, like food.  
    If tax systems are broad and low, that means that the tax burden is shared widely by different products and services and doesn’t fall too heavily on any one product or service.
    Meanwhile, most states avoid taxing necessities so that citizens who live paycheck to paycheck are not forced to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table.   
    Unfortunately, New Mexico‘s gross receipts tax (GRT) is neither broad nor low. At last count, there were 338 exemptions for everything from boxing matches to all-terrain vehicles and these exemptions significantly narrow the tax base.
    The GRT also averages more than 7.25 percent across New Mexico, which is relatively high, according to the Tax Foundation.
    The one area where New Mexico’s GRT gets it right is the fact that, since 2005, New Mexico no longer taxes food or medical services. This was an important reform, since the food tax not only fell on a necessity, it was also very regressive in that it fell hardest on those who could least afford it.

  • The best state sales tax systems (or gross receipts tax, as it is called in New Mexico) are broad, low, and don’t tax necessities, like food.  
    If tax systems are broad and low, that means that the tax burden is shared widely by different products and services and doesn’t fall too heavily on any one product or service.
    Meanwhile, most states avoid taxing necessities so that citizens who live paycheck to paycheck are not forced to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table.   
    Unfortunately, New Mexico‘s gross receipts tax (GRT) is neither broad nor low. At last count, there were 338 exemptions for everything from boxing matches to all-terrain vehicles and these exemptions significantly narrow the tax base.
    The GRT also averages more than 7.25 percent across New Mexico, which is relatively high, according to the Tax Foundation.
    The one area where New Mexico’s GRT gets it right is the fact that, since 2005, New Mexico no longer taxes food or medical services. This was an important reform, since the food tax not only fell on a necessity, it was also very regressive in that it fell hardest on those who could least afford it.

  • Last week, we picked up our sweet old dog and paid a vet bill with the complexity of a hospital bill, minus the shock. That’s because the clinic first gave us an estimate.
    Let’s say you need a hip replacement. Why can’t you get an estimate? Why aren’t hospital costs comparable?
    Think New Mexico answers the question with its proposal for transparency in healthcare costs. The pros far outweigh the cons.
    New Mexico hospitals charge a surprisingly wide range of prices for the same procedures, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Studies. Higher priced care may reflect a higher readmission, error or infection rate rather than better care.
    Think New Mexico found that patients at the same hospital receiving the same treatment from the same doctor are charged different prices, depending on who is paying the bills. (The six most expensive hospitals are owned by Community Health Systems, which has reportedly hired lobbyists to fight the bill.)
    When insurers and hospitals negotiate reimbursement rates, a gag clause forbids disclosure. The uninsured, with no bargaining power, have the highest rates. Secrecy and varied pricing add to complexity, which increases administrative waste in the system.

  • René Descartes was a truly amazing person. He invented analytic geometry, giving us the standard notation we use today for avariables, and created the coordinate plane system, allowing us to graphically represent algebraic equations.
    He is known for having creating the “rule of signs,” a method for determining the number of positive and negative roots of an equation. He also invented exponential notation and figured out the principal of refraction, creating what today is known as Snell’s Law.
    In summary, he gave math teachers a plethora of ways to torture students.
    Perhaps even more amazing is that mathematics was only a hobby of Descartes. His primary focus in life was philosophy, employing his “method of doubt” in a passionate search for truth. With his establishment of using logic and reason to define the natural sciences, he is known as “the father of philosophy.”
    And as such, the one thing he is best known for is his famous philosophical declaration, “Je pense, donc je suis,” a statement of proof of being.
    You probably know it as, “Cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.”
    Whether or not one exists, philosophers and psychologists are still debating who exactly is the “we” who thinks?

  • Our 2014 huge positives were the first grandchild, a new kitchen and hanging out by the ocean in Monterrey, California. The negatives were many, many trips to doctors.
    The kitchen came courtesy of an inheritance from my mother. In developing the project, we considered many things. Our research led us to million dollar homes with sloppy work. Most of our ideas worked; some didn’t, demanding compromise and rethinking. Our experience may lend some insight as you contemplate such a project.
    While we managed without a $10,000 stove, the project was extravagant. Fortunately we could not enlarge the kitchen because our house encircles it.
    We had the cash. Obvious advice, item one, be able to pay. Call me an outlier in our consumption ethos, but I’ve never been a borrower. Only for houses, but not for cars (once, only) and definitely not now with a fixed income.
    We didn’t worry about recapturing remodeling cost on sale of the house. We plan to be in the house long enough to render such an analysis moot. We did the project for us, not for the next guy.

  • Religious deception and hucksterism is certainly not a new phenomenon.
    From Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry to televangelist Jim Bakker to some proponents of the Prosperity Gospel, fictional and real life examples abound.
    So the revelation that Kevin Malarkey fabricated his six-year old son’s account of his near-death experience (NDE) in “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” is not shocking.
    In response to a letter by the now 16-year-old Alex, its publisher, Tyndale House, has announced it will no longer market the book, which has reportedly sold more than one million copies.
    Claims have long circulated that Malarkey embellished, exaggerated, or even invented the experiences and visions he attributes to Alex. For several years, Beth Malarkey, Kevin’s ex-wife, has questioned the account.
    “Buyer beware,” she wrote. “There is only one absolutely infallible and true book: God’s Word. It does not need fancied up or packaged for sale.”

  • Our 2014 huge positives were the first grandchild, a new kitchen and hanging out by the ocean in Monterrey, California. The negatives were many, many trips to doctors.
    The kitchen came courtesy of an inheritance from my mother. In developing the project, we considered many things. Our research led us to million dollar homes with sloppy work. Most of our ideas worked; some didn’t, demanding compromise and rethinking. Our experience may lend some insight as you contemplate such a project.
    While we managed without a $10,000 stove, the project was extravagant. Fortunately we could not enlarge the kitchen because our house encircles it.
    We had the cash. Obvious advice, item one, be able to pay. Call me an outlier in our consumption ethos, but I’ve never been a borrower. Only for houses, but not for cars (once, only) and definitely not now with a fixed income.
    We didn’t worry about recapturing remodeling cost on sale of the house. We plan to be in the house long enough to render such an analysis moot. We did the project for us, not for the next guy.

  • With the stock market at an all-time high, a bonanza of cheap gasoline, and unemployment at 5.8 percent, there is increased optimism about the U.S. economy. Yet challenges abound, both from the inside and abroad.
    Participation in the labor force remains at the lowest levels since the late 1970s, with over 6 million less people in the workforce since President Barack Obama assumed office. The time of reckoning for the Fed is arriving.
    The Fed will likely begin introducing higher rates early this year. If it waits until 2016 it might risk causing a negative short-term impact just before the presidential election.
    With over $7 trillion of new borrowing no other president in U.S. history has increased the debt as much as Obama. Eventually these policies need to be reversed, causing painful readjustments.

  • Most baby boomers couldn’t envision their early adult years without a car. However, times are changing and younger commuters are leading the way.
    According to an October study by U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and the Frontier Group, millennials — those born between 1983 and 2000 — are driving significantly less than older Americans. Many post-college drivers swimming in college debt are opting for urban living where walking, biking and mass transit tend to be easier options. Increasingly, those with a temporary need for four-wheel transportation can do so by smartphone.
    Today, there are many options to conventional car ownership, but it’s important to match solutions and their specific costs to your needs. Here’s a road map for exploring what’s right for you.
    Start with the cost of driving. If you already drive and budget carefully, you will have an idea of what driving costs you can incur each year in financing, fuel, fees, maintenance and insurance.

  • Multinational franchises like McDonald’s and KFC started small and worked their way up the food chain over decades.
    That methodical approach to growth seems too slow for the owners of two Albuquerque businesses.
    Before Olo Yogurt Studio opened its first store in 2010 and WisePies served its first pizza in 2014, the owners of both ventures planned to become franchises — and to waste no time doing it.
    Olo Yogurt opened a second store — a carbon copy of its colorful original — within three years and was strengthening its brand for further expansion.
    WisePies was less than a year old when it announced its intentions to open 20 new stores within a year and to offer franchise licenses for $35,000.
    In December, the company signed a $5 million deal for naming rights to the University of New Mexico basketball arena, commonly known as The Pit, now the WisePies Arena.
    The franchise or chain store model isn’t the only way for a business to grow, but its appeal is obvious.
    A franchisor can recruit talented go-getters who want to run a business with a built-in market, name recognition and institutional support. And they can do it without draining their capital budgets, as franchisees typically pay much of their own startup costs.

  • Starting with the earliest years of the Republic, a constant theme has laced its way through American political rhetoric to the effect that local and state governments, being “closer to the People” than a far-away national government, are best able to deal with the “People’s” needs and problems.
    It has always been a slightly silly proposition, if only because some of the “People’s” needs and problems transcend the boundaries and jurisdictions of state and local government, such as interstate commerce, national defense and terrorism.
    Lately, however, even a governmental function, which has historically been deemed inherently “local” in nature has found local governments in every part of the land clearly floundering, if not downright incompetent to handle.
    Consider local law enforcement.
    As most New Mexicans know, the state’s largest city has basically lost control of its police department and has entered into a written agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to fashion far-reaching police reforms, which Albuquerque officials — mayor and city council — will be obligated to implement.

  • French economist Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” was the most talked about treatise on political economy in 2014, if not the 21st century.
    To those of us who understand and respect the superior productivity and fairness of free markets, the errors throughout Piketty’s Capital were so numerous and obvious that the book was easy to dismiss as warmed-over leftism, hardly worthy of being addressed and refuted. The history of economics teaches us, however, that it can be a costly mistake to ignore a popular book however flawed and wrong-headed.
    When John Maynard Keynes published “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” in the winter of 1935-36, its fundamental errors were so glaring to the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek that Hayek figured the book would quickly slip into oblivion. Wrong! By the time Henry Hazlitt wrote the first systematic dissection and demolition of The General Theory in 1959 (The Failure of “the New Economics”) Keynes’ macroeconomic errors had become the orthodoxy.

  • I miss the days of truth in advertising. It is amazing to me that PNM gets away with the outrageous claims it makes in its full-scale PR assault on the good people of New Mexico.
    Every time we at Positive Energy Solar see a PNM advertisement these days, it is full of half-truths and exaggerated statistics. 
    “More Sol, Less Coal” is PNM’s latest spin in their “green” campaign, but what it isn’t telling you is that PNM is, in fact, adding more coal and barely scratching the surface in its adoption of “Sol.”
    Here is the truth: it is proposing to bring more coal, nuclear and natural gas into the mix at a cost to ratepayers of $66 million annually. This cost does not include any future carbon or coal regulations that might be incurred, nor does it factor future rises in fossil fuel costs.
    PNM’s claim in the ad that it will have cumulatively invested more than $270 million in solar by the end of 2015 is true, but solar only accounts for a measly 2 percent of the whole. This is a tiny fraction of what PNM could be harnessing, in a state that is recognized as the second-best state in the nation for solar power.

  • Process is as important as product in the deliberations of the Jobs Council, a legislative interim committee.
    By mutual consent, council members — Democrat and Republican, business and labor — focused on where they agreed and set aside questions like right-to-work that would bog them down in debate. Their 13-point package shows they achieved a surprising level of consensus.
    Equally important, the council developed a yardstick for measuring all those proposals pitched as economic development. During the session, many such bills will be introduced, and most of them would produce a negligible number of jobs.
    So let’s have a round of applause for council members for doing the hard work and acknowledge that it is hard to get beyond platitudes and pie in the sky to examine actual numbers: How many people will you have in your county in 10 years? How many jobs will you need? What kinds of jobs? In what industries?
    The members summarized the obstacles that keep each community from creating jobs.
    How many more jobs will the community lose by not fixing that obstacle? For example, if Carlsbad and Hobbs need housing before employers can hire more people, why aren’t builders flocking to these communities? Are towns losing opportunities because they lack bandwidth or the workforce isn’t prepared?

  • America is not a police state. This is not a country in which the arm of justice is empowered to pursue arbitrary and selfish goals.
    Instead, America is a land of laws that restrict harm, damage, selfishness and the arbitrary use of force by police, as well as citizens. Power in America is not absolute because it is restricted by law. Yes, the arm of the law is long, but in very predictable ways.
    In particular, the exercise of power in America is properly limited by accountability. In each and every one of my own roles, I have both designated authority and defined accountability.
    When the system works properly, the accountability increases the likelihood that I will use my authority to strengthen the good of society and limit any arbitrary or selfish exercise of power that harms others.
    In my role as father, I was expected to exert my authority in the training and education of my boys, increasing the likelihood that they would become contributing members of society. I was accountable to local authorities who had the responsibility to ensure that my parenting did not become neglectful or abusive.

  • Over the last decade, reverse mortgages have been marketed as an easy way for seniors to cash in their home equity to pay for living expenses. However, many have learned that improper use of the product — such as pulling all their cash out at one time to pay bills — has led to significant financial problems later, including foreclosure.
    In actuality, there are some cases where reverse mortgages can be helpful to borrowers. However, it is imperative to do extensive research on these products before you sign.
    Reverse mortgages are special kinds of home loans that let borrowers convert some of their home equity into cash. They come in three varieties: single-purpose reverse mortgages, Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) and proprietary reverse mortgages.
    Who can apply? Homeowners can apply for a reverse mortgage if they are at least 62 years old, own their home outright or have a low mortgage balance that can be paid off with the proceeds of the reverse loan. Qualifying homeowners also must have no delinquent federal debt, the financial resources to pay for upkeep, taxes and insurance and live in the home during the life of the loan.

  • Whether as a slowly rising tide or flash flood, marijuana reform is on its way to New Mexico. The question is, who will benefit economically from what’s shaping up to be the fastest-growing industry of this decade?
    Since New Mexico became the first state to license and regulate the production and distribution of medical marijuana in 2007, 23 other states have followed our lead. Now Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska have legalized recreational use. The District of Columbia has approved legalization, and unless Congress blocks it, President Barack Obama will soon be able to reunite his Hawaii choom gang for a smoke in the Rose Garden. (Hard to guess how the Secret Service would handle that, since pot remains illegal on federal property.)
    If he chooses to use the “pen and phone” he’s been brandishing lately in the cause of drug law reform, the president could drop marijuana from the fed’s list of controlled substances, a move that would favorably impact more Americans than his unilateral action on immigration. That would open the floodgates for similar reforms nationwide.
    Arizona legislators will weigh a legalization bill in the session opening this month, although it’s unlikely to make it to a floor vote this year.

  • As the Legislature debates the two related issues of right to work and minimum wage, we’re probably going to hear about theories like free markets and free choice. So let’s get real.
    Some things are still traded in completely free markets, I suppose, but I would hesitate to name one nationally marketed product that is not somehow affected (for better or worse) by subsidies, tax breaks, or other factors that have nothing to do with consumer choice. (If you find one, please write to me!)  
    We are all subsidizing Walmart. If you don’t shop there, you are subsidizing the purchases of people who do.  
    Americans for Tax Fairness issued a report in April 2014 called “Walmart on Tax Day:  How Taxpayers Subsidize America’s Biggest Employer and Richest Family.”
    In this report, a state-by-state analysis shows the estimated number of Walmart employees in New Mexico as 14,322. The estimated public assistance cost for those New Mexico employees is $63.2 million. The estimated yearly total of tax breaks and subsidies to the Walmart stores in New Mexico, benefitting the company’s owners and stockholders, is $73.7 million. Those two figures add up to $136.9 million — money either not collected in taxes or paid out in public assistance to workers.  

  • Many Americans are upset by the decision of President Barack Obama to issue an executive order to reform immigration policy. The executive order effectively grants undocumented immigrants the legal right to remain in the United States if they have been here five years and are parents, children, or spouses of citizens or of legal residents. The president says that he did this because Congress has not passed an immigration reform bill.
    Obama’s impatience with Congress on immigration reform is understandable. Government has allowed millions of immigrants to remain in the United States even though they are violating the law by being here. Since it costs about $23,000 to deport an undocumented immigrant, it would be fiscally irresponsible to try to deport a significant percentage of them. Thus, we need to reform immigration policy so that we have a law that we can afford to enforce. Although Obama may have gone beyond his authority as president, his action serves to highlight the urgency of Congress acting to reform immigration policy.

  • The information in a Jan. 9 report, “Martinez throws support behind right-to-work,” in the business section of the Albuquerque Journal reinforces the claim that Gov. Susana Martinez is just another Republican agent working for big business.
    As usual, the governor proclaims that she is working for the people. “It is fundamentally wrong to require membership (in a union) in order to get a job or take money from the paychecks of our workers by force to support a special interest group that they do not want to be a part of.”
    But where was she speaking and why?
    Martinez was appearing “before about 500 business leaders and legislators at a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce luncheon.”
    It is a little hypocritical and suspect to claim you are supporting labor rights when you are speaking before a special interest business group that would benefit the most from abolishing unions altogether.
    Hmm. Do you really think the governor is looking out for workers, or is she trying to pay back big businesses for their financial support and troll for more cash to fuel her political ambitions?
    There are several inconvenient truths about right-to-work (RTW) laws.