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Opinion

  • BY SANDY NELSON
    Finance New Mexico

    Once the frenzy of Black Friday fades, Small Business Saturday aims to attract shoppers to local merchants whose stores serve hometown retail needs – not just to keep those businesses healthy in today’s hypercompetitive retail environment but also to generate tax revenue that provides vital community services.

    To stoke that fire, the 2018 New Mexico Legislature passed a law authorizing a one-day tax holiday that will remove state gross receipts taxes from a variety of retail products on the Saturday after Thanksgiving – one of the year’s busiest shopping days, when many people hunt for the best deals on holiday gifts – from 2018 through 2020.

    The 24-hour consumer tax relief measure applies to small businesses of 10 or fewer employees only; franchises, no matter how small, are exempted. It covers a wide range of products, including clothing, sporting goods, artworks, musical instruments, and furniture – as long as the cost of any individual product doesn’t exceed $500.

    The tax-free day represents a sacrifice by the state and municipalities to benefit New Mexico businesses, as it is likely to cost the state nearly $2 million per year in lost revenues and cost local communities their share of the GRT for that day.

  • Red states, blue states, red counties, blue counties.    

    A few elections ago, a TV station began using red and blue to indicate voting patterns on a map, a decision driven solely by graphic design. It stuck, and now it’s an emblem of political identity.

    On maps the day after Election Day, the colors defined divisions between one county and the next, between rural and urban, and between regions of the state.

    Like many other states, the cities here voted blue, but unlike other states, the rural areas were both blue and red. This rural-urban divide was most visible as the state’s second largest city, Las Cruces, flexed its muscles, swinging the vote for Xochitl Torres Small despite solid support for Yvette Harrell in the massive 2nd District’s red counties. The reliably blue north preserves Ben Ray Lujan’s 3rd District seat each cycle. And the blue and very urban 1st District is sending Deb Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo, to Congress.

    While the anticipated “Blue Wave” fell short nationally, it was a reality here, sweeping Democrats into all the statewide offices.

  • White Rock needs Jemez House Thrift Store

    Dear Editor,
    The closing of Jemez House Thrift Shop was a blow to the entire community. The shop performs good deeds at every turn using only volunteer workers.
    The main goal is to provide college scholarships to New Mexico students who had at one time resided in a group home. But it does untold good along the way: keeping tons of used clothing, furniture, housewares, books and electronics out of the landfill, at the same time providing a low cost source for these items.
    Now Jemez House needs our help. It will continue to exist until all of its scholarship money has been distributed so there is still time to resurrect the thrift store. They need a space at reasonable rent and adequate parking in order to resume business.
    The community needs to step up and help this worthy organization to continue their good work.
    Kathy Taylor
    Los Alamos

  • BY JASON GIBBS
    Finance New Mexico

    With New Mexico gaining a reputation among film production companies, local businesses are needed to help fill a growing demand for services as more television shows and movies shoot in the Land of Enchantment.

    The New Mexico Film Office reports nearly $506 million in direct spending in the state during 2017, and productions including “Godless” and “Waco” are racking up Emmy nominations by the fistful. This has put the state in the spotlight and local businesses are increasingly needed to provide an array of goods and services in addition to locations and crews.

    “The film industry isn’t just for businesses you would typically associate with making movies – like studios, camera equipment or lighting – they literally need anything you can think of,” said Barbara Kerford, the state outreach coordinator for the New Mexico Film Office. “For the cast and crew, they are all living in New Mexico while a production is happening, if they aren’t already living here. And they need all of the services that they would need at home – like gyms, groceries, gas, salons, medical care, etc.”

    “And they will spend that money with local businesses in New Mexico,” she said.

  • In a previous column, I discussed those leaving New Mexico, namely the 25- to- 44-year olds who should provide the core of a productive society. This time the topic is the number staying. The numbers, for July 1, 2017, come from the Census Bureau. New numbers are due next month.

    The state’s overall population situation remains dismal; we added only 28,891 people from the April 2010 census to 2017. That’s a 1.4 percent increase. Contrast that with Arizona, up by 624,253 (yes, from a larger base), a 9.8 percent increase.  Booming Colorado’s population grew 11.5 percent during the period. Those two neighbors can’t match New Mexico’s “accomplishment” of declining population in 2014 and 2015. It has been a lost decade.

    Ten New Mexico counties gained population during the period. Only Sandoval and Santa Fe counties gained every year.

    Bernalillo and Los Alamos counties lost population during one year by amounts so tiny as to not really count. These four are the north central urban area. Doña Ana is also urban with the second largest county population in 2017 (215,579), with Las Cruces and part of the larger Júarez-El Paso combo.

    Urban wins. The message isn’t good for the rest of the state.

    Amid the gloom a few glimmers appear.

  • BY HELEN M. MILENSKI
    Guest Editorial

    I love a bargain. These days everyone needs to be selective on where and how we spend our hard-earned dollars. It puzzles me how the local government in our corner of the world doesn’t seem to share this frugal sensibility, especially when it is our money they get to spend.

    There are lots of examples I could point to, but recently there is the notorious case of Brenner vs. Los Alamos County Council regarding Councilor Susan O’Leary’s emails.

    First off, let me say that I believe heartily that Patrick Brenner was firmly in the wrong when he wrote his infamous letter to the council, but I also think that the events that unfolded illustrated flaws in character all around. I got sick of hearing about this whole thing a long time ago and hoped that the end was in sight when I head a judgment was to be issued by the court. I think the judge felt the same way I did. I think we all felt it was going to go away, but alas we aren’t so lucky.

  • Pineapples first sprang up deep in South America, in the region where Brazil and Paraguay now meet. The wonders of their shape, color and taste led people to begin carting them outward from there.

    Over hundreds of years, pineapples worked their way from native tribe to tribe and to islands in the Caribbean. One of them was the lush, volcanic island of Guadeloupe, where Columbus landed in November 1493. Imagine sailors ashore amid the wonders of a “new world,” where they met with pineapples. The story builds.

    From this second voyage, Columbus brought pineapples back to Spain. Most likely no more than pineapple crowns arrived intact, which could start new pineapples. News of pineapples spread across Europe and spurred attempts to grow pineapples in the adverse climate.

    In those same years, seafarers ranged far around the globe. Pineapples reached the Philippines on Spanish ships on occasions in the 1500s and after. Later the fruit reached Hawaii. By tricks of fate, today’s icons of tropical islands got

    Early seafarers from New England brought pineapples back from trips to the Caribbean. Pineapples were big treats in the colonies, as much as in South America, Europe and the islands, and then a notch more. Their novelty and scarcity brought a price higher than many people could afford.

  • By Greg White

    My name is Greg White. I’m an Independent running for Los Alamos County Sheriff because I love LA and it’s people. A little background is helpful to understanding my views and platform.

    Since the 1950’s a faction has tried to eliminate the Sheriff’s office. The problem stems from the fact that Los Alamos is a very small county and it’s county and municipal boundaries are the same. 

    This came to a head when Los Alamos elected its current sheriff eight years ago, a very experienced fully accredited law enforcement officer. Most sheriffs in Los Alamos history have had no law enforcement experience. One wonders why the County Council would spend the last eight years desperately trying to eliminate the office. And now are deliberately defying a direct court order from Judge Mathews to restaff the sheriff’s office, give him back all his statutory duties, and fund it sufficiently to carry out those duties. The Court decision is available on my web site at greg4sheriff.com, which also has links to my Facebook and Twitter pages (you do not need a Twitter account to get an inspirational message every day).

  • BY DAVID ALLAZETTA
    CEO, UnitedHealthcare of New Mexico and Arizona

    This fall millions will head to the polls to cast their vote in the mid-term elections, but they have another important choice to make as well: their health care coverage for 2019.

    Many people in New Mexico will have the opportunity to select or switch their health insurance plans for 2019 during “open” or “annual” enrollment.  But unlike Election Day, the dates to keep in mind aren’t the same for everyone and vary depending on your situation:

    • For the more than 175 million Americans with employer-provided coverage, many companies set aside a two-week period between September and December when employees can select health benefits for the following year.

    • For the more than 60 million people enrolled in Medicare, Medicare Annual Enrollment runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year.

    • Health insurance marketplace or individual state exchange open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.
    For most people, changes made during this time will take effect Jan. 1, 2019.

    Choosing health benefits can feel stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider the following five tips to help make the process easier.

    Take Time to Review Your Options

  • BY DOWD MUSKA
    Research Director, Rio Grande Foundation

    Our state’s system of taxpayer-funded higher education is in crisis. A few key facts about postsecondary institutions in the Land of Enchantment, and the University of New Mexico in particular, reveal the depth of the problem:

    • Contrary to popular belief -- the left-wing New Mexico Voices for Children recently made the assertion that Santa Fe has made “inadequate public investment in higher education over the last decade” – New Mexico spends quite a lot on its government colleges and universities. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers, the “national association of the chief executives of statewide governing, policy, and coordinating boards of postsecondary education,” we spend $9,348 per full-time equivalent enrollment. That sum is far in excess of the national figure of $7,642, despite the state’s low cost of living. On occasion, brave voices have acknowledged the system’s spendthrift ways.

    In 2016, former UNM President Chaouki Abdallah told the Albuquerque Journal: “Our higher ed spending is more than most other states; the trouble is we don’t spend it wisely and [we] spread it across so many entities.”

  • Here’s a challenge. Visualize three miles of anything as one single thing. It’s hard. Runners, for example, commonly cover more than three miles but are conscious only of the much smaller area that is visible. The question arises because of a recent report that railroads are thinking about running trains three miles long.
    What would a three-mile-long train be, besides really, really long?

    On Interstate 25 there is a rest stop north of Lemitar. North of the rest stop, a sign says, “Rest Stop Three Miles.”

    This is the Walking Sands rest area at mile marker 167, which stands out among the state’s rest areas for its distinctive wood structures. A sand dune area used to be located immediately west of the area, but the dunes seem to have walked away.

    Imagine a single train covering the distance from Walking Sands back to the sign. Such a train might have as many as 200 cars, many carrying two shipping containers. And locomotives at both ends. It might need five minutes to pass a given point.

  • BY LISA SHIN
    Republican candidate, New Mexico House of Representatives, District 43

    Councilor Morris Pongratz recently stated that “Under current state law TRIAD may qualify for a 501(c)3 GRT exemption. He went so far to say that Triad has a “moral obligation” to pay GRTs.

    For the record, I am strongly opposed to legislation such as SB 17 that our governor rightly vetoed.  It would have cost our district jobs, put New Mexico at a competitive disadvantage, and further complicated our tax code. It was not fair and equitable, as I wrote in an editorial, “Thanks to our Governor for SB17 Veto.”

    TRIAD has agreed to voluntarily pay GRTs this year. That, of course, would be their prerogative to do so.   The GRT situation remains uncertain, however, and we must elect new leadership that will exercise fiscal responsibility and good stewardship with American tax dollars, both local and federal.

    Consider the following:

    TRIAD has no moral obligation to pay GRTs.  Congress has no moral obligation to keep its operations in Los Alamos.  Our Federal Government can decide to move its operations to a state that has better tax legislation and is more supportive of their scientific and national security missions.

  • BY DAVID IZRAELEVITZ
    Chair, Los Alamos County Council

    There are many things that a local government provides to its citizens. Parks, roads, and public schools all come to mind, but in my opinion, public transit is one of the most appreciated services that our local government in Los Alamos provides to our community.

    Specifically, the Los Alamos Atomic City Transit (ATC) system has really brought parts of the community here together like no other system has done before. Los Alamos County consists of two geographically separated communities: the town site and White Rock. Having public transportation between these two areas has allowed children and adults who prefer not to drive or who are unable to drive to take advantage of the amenities in each community.

    The circulator bus also helps invigorate the downtown, and those commuting to the laboratory from outlying parts of the region can rely on an alternate form of transportation.

    Additionally, public transportation benefits all segments of society. Elderly individuals who no longer drive have a way to get out of the house safely and comfortably, and remain integrated in our community while living independently.

    Children have a safe and reliable way to visit friends, the library or participate in other afterschool activities.

  • BY STEPHANIE AND MARCEL REMILLIEUX

    Owners of Fleur de Lys

    As we are diving into this new election season, many local candidates have stopped by our small businesses to discuss the issues we are facing as business owners and listen to our suggestions on ways to overcome them. This has been a great opportunity for us to socialize and gather some thoughts.

    Some of us have been established for years, some for months, some have closed their businesses recently, and some are about to open one, waiting to see what the future holds for them. We, at Fleur de Lys, have been established for only eight months but an interview of Cyndi Wells, owner of Pet Pangaea, published on Dec. 19, 2012, resonates strongly with our experience, not only because she has also started a small business in our town while being a LANL scientist but also because what she described in 2012 all seems so true today, at least for us.

  • When the owner of a small business wants to move on, whether to retire or to pursue other ventures, he or she has three potential paths: close the business, sell it to investors or to a competitor or let the employees purchase it.
    Each option has consequences for a community that relies on local businesses for jobs and revenue generation.
    Stephen Wiman, former owner of Good Water Company in Santa Fe, never considered closing the independent water company he purchased in 2005 when he exited the company 11 years later.
    “I wanted the business to continue,” he said, “because it did a lot of good work in the community. I spent probably half my time doing volunteer work in water conservation and supporting causes in which I believed. I got close to a lot of customers who had really complex water and could afford what was actually very expensive treatment.”
    He also cared about the well-being of his employees. “I wanted to keep my employees working, as they were loyal to me and helped us establish a good reputation in the community.”

  • The United States has had an immigration policy of some sort since the 1880s, Alan Kraut told the Domenici Policy Conference audience in Las Cruces Sept. 12.
    But we have never had immigrant policies that would help immigrants “make the enormous adjustment” of living in a new country. Sweden and Germany have such policies. The United States relies on charities and local government.
    Kraut suggests a commission with labor, business and other representatives that would produce a workable figure for annual immigration from a rolling five-year projection of labor needs, plus family members, and an estimate of people fleeing oppression.
    Lacking such an institution we get today’s situation that plays on fears and anxieties.
    It’s not that present institutions are great, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D. C., think tank. (After Pete Domenici left the Senate, he was a senior fellow at the Center.)
    The United States’ border control systems were created when 99 percent of people crossing the border were single Mexican men. Now the traffic is Central American families and their children. The systems are unable to deal quickly with them.

  • BY SARA SCOTT
    Candidate, Los Alamos County Council

    One of the best parts of running for public office is the opportunity to speak with so many folks in the community – through knocking on doors, participating in meetings of community organizations, meeting with county staff, and attending local events. I really enjoy getting to chat with both new and familiar faces.

    I’ve heard about a wide variety of issues important to many in the community including:

    • Identifying how to increase the amount and types of housing options.

    • Supporting our school system and the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.

    • Growing a few more businesses (restaurants and shops to tech startups) and amenities.

    • Enhancing county support and opportunities for our local businesses.

    • Protecting and maintaining our open spaces.

    • Addressing long-term building vacancies in key areas of the community.

    • Assuring fiscal responsibility in balancing care for our current infrastructure while investing in the future.

  • BY CHRIS MANNING
    Libertarian Candidate, New Mexico Congressional District 3

    For many of you reading this article it will be the first time you’ve ever heard of me. Let me introduce myself, I’m Chris Manning and I’m running for the United States Congress in New Mexico’s CD 3, and I’m a Libertarian, hence why you’ve never heard of me. It’s okay, as the state’s newest major party it will take time before we have grown large enough to warrant the same attention as the Republican and Democrat candidates.

    Before we get into the meat of my article let me first tell you about my day job. I’m a staff auditor for my family’s accounting firm. The majority of our business is auditing governmental organizations and non-profits. I’m not a CPA or a CFE, I have a degree in Secondary Education.

    I spend most days checking compliance and the internal controls of school districts, non-profits, water companies, and acequias throughout the state. So naturally after I decided to run and secured my name on the ballot I began to examine Congressman Ben Ray Lujan’s House financial disclosures and FEC reports to get a better understanding of how and where his campaign’s money came from, and more importantly how he spent it.

  • BY KRISTINA G. FISHER
    Associate Director, Think New Mexico

    As deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for health care continually increase, New Mexico families face a conundrum: they are expected to shop around for the most affordable non-emergency care, yet they have no way to find out in advance the cost of a medical procedure at different providers.

    Fortunately, earlier this year New Mexico took a first step toward making health care prices more transparent with the launch of a website, nmhealthcarecompare.com, where anyone can find the average prices paid by Medicaid for nine common, non-emergency procedures at each of the state’s 44 hospitals. The website, which was created as a result of legislation that Think New Mexico drafted and advocated for, also includes quality metrics for the hospitals, such as 30-day readmission rates and patient ratings.

    Now it is time to take the next step: increasing the number of procedures listed on nmhealthcarecompare.com and adding the average prices paid by New Mexicans who are covered by individual or employer-provided insurance policies.

  • Thanks mostly to oil and gas, legislators will have $1.2 billion or more in new money to divvy up in the next session.
    After the bruising budget cutting of just a couple of years ago, it’s enough to make legislative finance people giddy. But they’re not giddy. They and we have gotten a lot more realistic about the cycles of state revenues.

    There’s much talk about salting money away in reserves and a newly created rainy day fund, and that’s prudent.

    Beyond that, lawmakers will be awash in suggestions. Of course, that never stopped a red-blooded opinion columnist.
    With the ups and down of our revenues, budgeters will have to be very careful of committing money to recurring programs – even such favorites as early childhood education – because the funding might not be there in the future.

    However, this is a fine opportunity to make some one-time expenditures, and they should begin with roads.

    In January, TRIP, a transportation research group, released its yearly report. Of our major roads, 27 percent are in poor condition, 20 percent mediocre, 12 percent fair, and 41 percent good. Of rural roads, 28 percent are poor, 25 percent mediocre, 13 percent fair, and 34 percent good.