It's that time of year again. That is, time to put down the donuts and cast aside the cigarettes, rejoin the gym and promise yet again to be healthier, nicer and more productive.
Or, you could forget about all that and task yourself with tackling real change. Forget the personal. It's time to get political. New Mexico, after all, faces some, uh, challenges when it comes to everything from tackling political corruption to budget shortfalls, endemic drunk driving to declining educational achievement. That's not to mention global warming.
So, with the new year dawning, SFR polled some New Mexicans-in-the-know for suggestions on how to make New Mexico a better place in 2010—for everyone.
Kick Kickbacks to the Curb
Out with the old: In recent years, former state Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon and two former state treasurers were sent to jail for corruption. Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron was just indicted for 50 felony counts. And let’s not forget the multiple federal investigations into state investment agencies for possible pay-to-play crimes.
In with the new: Using other states’ reforms as a guide, Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan think tank, has laid out an ethics-reform proposal for the coming legislative session that would ban political contributions from government contractors and lobbyists. Think also proposes closing a funding loophole known as “bundling,” in which a lobbyist who is banned from contributing to a candidate skirts that ban by collecting contributions from other donors through a party or fundraising event and “bundles” those contributions.
The legislation also would apply reforms at the local level to municipalities, school boards and county offices.
“If officials are awarding contracts on political contributions, they are not awarding contracts based on the best price for the best goods,” Think Associate Director Kristina Fisher says. “If we can eliminate kickbacks, that will mean the better use of public dollars—contracts don’t then have to have a hidden line item for kickbacks.”
Get moving in ’10: The bill will have an easier time in the House—representatives are all up for re-election—than in the Senate, but Gov. Bill Richardson has included the proposal in his ethics package. So use your super-citizen
powers to ensure all legislators and candidates support ethics reform.
Learn more at thinknewmexico.org
Find and contact your legislator: nmlegis.gov/lcs/legislatorsearch.aspx
End DWI for Real
Out with the old: Despite some headway, the state’s DWI problem remains…well, let’s face it: terrifying. Last year’s devastating accident in which four teenagers were killed by an accused drunk driver should serve as a wake-up call that more needs to be done.
Right now, New Mexico is 11th in the nation in DWI fatalities. Although that rank is an improvement—the state has consistently been in the top 10—“We’re still seeing 150 people killed each year, and it’s still too much for this state to say that’s OK,” Linda Atkinson, executive director of the DWI Resource Center, says. “It’s not OK, and we still have a lot of work to do.”
In with the new: Atkinson believes a four-pronged approach is needed to reduce DWI-related deaths and injuries. First, there ought to be enough officers on the streets to catch offenders. Then, those offenders must be fully prosecuted (oftentimes, attorneys plead down to lesser offenses). Next, judges must issue meaningful sanctions. Lastly, judges must actually follow through on those sanctions.
Resolving the state’s law enforcement manpower shortage is No. 1 on Atkinson’s 2010 wish list. “We know that if you can raise the perception of the risk of getting caught, then you change behavior,” she says. “But if we don’t have the manpower out there, the visibility, then it isn’t going to shift.”
The courts are troublesome, as well. DWI cases are heard in municipal and magistrate courts—“courts of no record” in which judges don’t have to be lawyers—which have limited jurisdiction and hear only misdemeanor cases. “DWIs all start as misdemeanors before they grow up to be felonies,” Atkinson says. She believes DWI cases should be shifted out of the municipal courts altogether.
Greater transparency of the courts would force judges to take DWI cases more seriously: “The public has a right to know what the courts are doing, how they are doing it and to say whether they want that judge or prosecutor in office based on their record,” Atkinson says.
Get moving in ’10: Learn more about this problem and stay on top of proposed solutions: dwiresourcecenter.org
Download the Courtroom Monitoring Handbook: dwiresourcecenter.org/down loads/naap/courthandbook.pdf
New Mexico Courts website: nmcourts.gov
Learn from West Mesa Murders
Out with the old: Last February, a woman walking through a graded patch of desert awaiting development on the outskirts of Albuquerque found a human femur. After combing the almost 100-acre area for more than a month, investigators found the remains of 11 women, one of whom was four months pregnant. So far, all but one of the women have been identified. All had been reported missing between 2003 and 2005—and each was murdered.
While investigators say they’re doing all they can, victims’ friends and families wonder why it took the discovery of the bones to spur a serious investigation into the women’s disappearances.
In with the new: Daniel Valdez, father of Gina Michelle Valdez, the pregnant 22-year-old woman whose body was found at the West Mesa site, wants law enforcement officials to treat reports of missing adults more seriously. “My main goal is to change the laws of how adults are treated, how their missing [person’s] reports are handled—starting with this state,” Valdez says.
The first step is for law enforcement officials to always collect dental records or DNA samples when families file missing person’s reports. They also should collect dental records or DNA from incarcerated individuals.
“They have on file information like, he has a heart tattoo on his right arm, or she has ‘Mom’ written on her ankle, but those dissipate with time,” Valdez says. “If you’re buried out on the West Mesa, like these girls were, nobody knows your tattoo or if you had a scar. DNA and dental records are there forever.”
Get moving in ’10: Albuquerque Police Department Spokeswoman Nadine Hamby offers advice for people dealing with a missing adult. “If you suspect any kind of foul play, feel something is out of the ordinary, you can report someone missing right away,” she says. “It’s not putting in a missing person’s report, but just notifying the police that something odd is going on.”
She adds that people should gather as much information as possible: Determine if withdrawals were made from bank accounts, look through the closets to learn what the missing person might have been wearing at the time of disappearance and gain access to the person’s phone carrier and records.
Learn more about helping vulnerable and exploited women at the Southwest Women’s Law Center: swwomenslaw.org
Visit APD’s site related to the investigation of the West Mesa murders: cabq.gov/police/index--118th/index--118th.htm
Out with the old: Even though 85 percent of a child’s brain development occurs during the first few years of life, the state’s investment in children between birth and the age of 5 hovers just below 2 percent of the education budget.
Currently, New Mexico invests approximately $1,000 per child each year. Compare that with between $5,000 and $6,000 for children in grades K-12 and approximately $10,000 to $15,000 for young adults in higher education.
In with the new: Eric Griego, executive director of the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, recognizes there are no quick fixes and that long-term change would mean shifting budget priorities from the $150 million spent annually on early childhood programs to approximately $500 million. But the benefits to the state would be priceless.
“For the workforce, how great would that be—to be able to go to work and know your kid is safe—how much more productive would your workforce be?” he asks. “And it would be a better outcome for the kids in terms of the education system. There would be a better-trained workforce in the future, and we would have more citizens who contribute to the economy as they get older. It just defies logic why we under-invest in those first years so massively.”
Get moving in ’10: Start with universal prenatal care, Griego says. From the time their babies are born, mothers should have access to home visits—voluntary visits, he emphasizes—from a health care professional who can offer advice on everything from nutrition to daily care. Over the course of a child’s first two years, the state also should ensure that parents have access to safe home-based provider facilities.
And at the very least, he says, there should be universal public education for 3-year-olds. “By virtue of being a 3-year old, you can go to a pre-K that is a safe, monitored facility, or a school where you are stimulated, cared for, read to and taught,” he says. “And that shouldn’t depend on what your parents can afford, and it shouldn’t be for only poor kids.”
Learn more at nmvoices.org
Let the Sunshine In
Out with the old: In August 2009, the city of Farmington had to shell out 90 big ones, all because it tried to stop the Daily Times from gaining access to city manager applications. Two years earlier, the newspaper had tried to take a peek at those records. When the city refused, the newspaper sued—and won.
That $90,000 fee is in addition to what the city paid its own lawyers, Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, notes.
In with the new: “In 2010, New Mexico should resolve to give public information away freely when the public asks for it,” Welsh says. “The public has already paid for that information with our tax dollars, and we need to save those dollars for a rainy day.”
She points out that governments are supposed to provide resources to citizens—not engage in court battles to prevent the release of public information.
“Corruption has been in the news a lot lately and, typically, at the state level, when people are trying to withhold records—when they do come out, a lot of times we see those records reveal some sort of wrongdoing or malfeasance,” she says. “If they don’t have anything to hide, they should just let this stuff go and not waste money withholding it.”
Get moving in ’10: This past year brought some significant victories when it came to open government—namely, webcasting of the state legislative session.
In the coming year, Welsh encourages members of the public to actively engage in the open records process by filing their own public records’ requests.
“Just try it—it’s not that hard,” she says. “Think of something you’re curious about—say you read a newspaper article and thought, ‘Huh, I wonder how much that guy makes?’” People worried about the environmental impacts of oil and gas development can file requests at the county level, for instance. Want to learn about how teachers are hired or how school board budgets are met? Ferret out that information by filing a request. As Welsh points out: “Pretty much everything in your life is touched by government in some way.”
Visit nmfog.org for more information and a sample letter.
Read the Inspection of Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act at nmag.gov
Level the Playing Field
Out with the old: Here in New Mexico, a tax loophole allows corporations with offices and subsidiaries in other states to avoid paying New Mexico’s 7.6 percent corporate tax.
Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, uses an example to explain how the system currently works: New Mexico banks with profits in excess of $1 million pay a 7.6 percent corporate tax. Period. But if a multistate chain bank sets up a division here, then sets up a division in, say, Delaware or Nevada—states that don’t have corporate taxes—it is able to expense its profits to different divisions of the corporation and avoid paying New Mexico’s 7.6 percent corporate tax on the profits earned here.
In with the new: As SFR reported last year, it’s estimated that closing this loophole could save the state $90 million.
In the coming legislative session, the bill Wirth plans to introduce—and has tried to carry the past five sessions—would prevent multistate corporations from filing as separate entities. Instead, they would have to pay the same taxes on profits that New Mexico-based corporations do.
“We’re not raising the tax rate, all I’m saying is that everybody should pay the same rate,” Wirth says, adding: “At its core, for me, it’s not so much about money, but fundamental fairness in our tax code.”
Get moving in ’10: The key, Wirth says, is convincing the committees to move the bill onward into the Taxation & Revenue Committee in the House and the Finance Committee in the Senate.
“Once the bill is there, there will be hearings where the public can come and testify—and my experience is that public testimony is something legislators really listen to,” Wirth says.
Once the legislative session begins, follow the bill’s progress online at legis.state.nm.us/lcs, and contact legislators on key committees to express your support.
Battle the Dropout Rate
Out with the old: A recent report shows that the state’s bleak 60.3 percent four-year high school graduation rate might actually be compounded—the schools with the highest graduation rates have some of the lowest proficiency rates. Think that since you’re not a parent, this isn’t your problem? Think again.
In with the new: Poor high school graduation rates affect everyone in the state, New Mexico Department of Public Education Secretary Veronica García says. “The students who drop out of high school are more likely to be incarcerated, to be on public assistance, to have greater incidence of drug and alcohol problems, and a lower income, for sure, which means they’ll be paying less taxes, which means our quality of life suffers as a state,” she says. “The quality of life for all New Mexicans is dependant on the education level of all of its citizens, and the income level of all of its citizens.”
Graduation rates even affect public safety, according to Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano. “We have a hard time filling positions in law enforcement because it’s not an option for those who don’t graduate,” he says, noting that, without a high school diploma, youths can’t consider careers in law enforcement or as fire fighters. “I believe we’d be able to fill more positions with people who are better trained and educated—and the response to that would be we have more officers on the street.”
Get moving in ’10: Secretary García believes that parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors can go a long way toward helping New Mexico’s students.
“Parents drop out before their kids do—they drop out in terms of going to parent meetings, asking to get progress reports, checking report cards, checking on attendance records,” she says. She adds that if students are struggling with math and reading skills in middle school, that’s when parents should visit with counselors and teachers.
Family and non-family alike also can volunteer their time to the Santa Fe Public Schools district, as well as provide support to Partners in Education Foundation for the Santa Fe Public Schools.
To find out more: ped.state.nm.ussfps.infosfpartnersineducation.org
Thank a Veteran
Out with the old: Whether or not you support the current wars the United States is waging in distant lands, there are 200,000 veterans in the state—30,000 of whom have returned home from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan—and they need support. Many of them are in their early 20s, and some graduated high school as recently as 2005 and 2006.
“With the current surge—30,000 more going to Afghanistan—we’re going to see a new crop moving back,” John Garcia, cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services, says. “We know it’s not going to end soon—I would hope it would end sooner than they’re planning—but there are going to be many more stepping forward and many more doing multiple terms.”
Many New Mexicans are already doing three, four or even five tours of duty. As a result, more are coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder, Garcia says, adding that there also has been a spike in homelessness, suicide and unemployment. There are 200,000 homeless veterans in the United States, he says, and 7,000 homeless here in New Mexico.
In with the new: Even though military service is voluntary, today’s veterans face many of the same problems as those who returned home from Vietnam.
“I think we need to be very proactive and ensure the mistakes do not occur again: Many men returning were not welcomed home and they did not receive the benefits they were entitled to,” Garcia says. He notes there is a progressive movement toward more outreach than in the past: “We don’t want them to wait 30 years like many Vietnam veterans did before they go back to the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs] for help with PTSD.”
Get moving in ’10: If you know someone who has returned home from Iraq or Afghanistan, Garcia says, express your appreciation for his or her service, even if you don’t necessarily agree with the war itself (“separate the war from the warrior,” he says). “The first part of transitioning a veteran home,” he says, “is to welcome them home, thank them for service to their country.”
Daniel Craig, a Gulf War veteran with Veterans for Peace, says New Mexicans should urge the state’s congressional delegation to end the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We should be spending money here—the military is for national defense, not occupation,” he says. “All the money they’re wasting occupying two countries, instead of finding realistic solutions, would be a great benefit to New Mexico as one of the poorest states in the country.”
New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services: dvs.state.nm.us
Veterans for Peace: veteransforpeace.org
Sen. Tom Udall: tomudall.senate.gov, 505-988-6511
Sen. Jeff Bingaman: bingaman.senate.gov, 505-988-6647
US Rep. Ben Ray Luján: lujan.house.gov, 984-8950
Out with the old: According to the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, New Mexicans still get the vast majority of their electricity from fossil fuel sources, including coal and natural gas.
In with the new: This year, the state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, will develop its procurement plan to determine how it will achieve the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which says that, by 2020, utilities should get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources.
While New Mexico led the pack legislatively in clean energy issues some 10 years ago, it is now struggling to catch up with the international momentum. One of the problems is that utilities have yet to make significant investments in clean energy.
“Instead of struggling how to figure out how to meet the current RPS, we need to be banding together and increasing the RPS,” Rebecca Sobel, executive director of New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, says. “New Mexico needs to be investing in the local consumption and production of clean energy, and we need to be seeing more renewables on the grid.”
Get moving in ’10: In July, when PNM announced plans to cut its incentives for people who installed solar photovoltaic systems on homes and businesses—incentives that had led to increased numbers of people participating in its small and large solar programs—the Renewable Energy Industries Association of New Mexico fought back. Eventually, PNM backed down and the trade organization was able to claim victory on those negotiations—proving not only that the renewable industry in the state is growing in power and influence, but that the days of utilities running roughshod over the environment are over.
Learn more about the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard at nmprc.state.nm.us/renewable.htm
Find out about New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy at cfcae.org
Let PNM know how you feel about its programs at pnm.com/home.htm
Be the Change
Out with the old: A draft report from the New Mexico Environment Department shows that the state’s greenhouse gas emissions are up, despite the governor’s executive orders and task forces aimed at reducing emissions.
According to the report, transportation emissions are down, but we’re all using more energy to heat, cool and operate our homes. In fact, across the country, the homes we inhabit and the buildings in which we work are responsible for 50 percent of annual US energy consumption and 49 percent of total annual US greenhouse gas emissions.
In with the new: According to Tony Sylvester, special projects planner with the Mid-Region Council of Governments, New Mexicans need to recognize how many environmental and energy issues tie in with our daily transportation choices.
The Rail Runner has done amazing things so far, he says: “We’ve really begun to think like a region in terms of transportation.” The 100-mile corridor was little more than a dream even five years ago. Now, people riding the train keep 200,000 miles of vehicle travel off the roadway each day.
“We are working on enhanced bus and shuttle connections to the station and further refining schedules, as well as another Rail Runner station at Montaño Road in Albuquerque,” Sylvester says. Beginning this spring, he says, there will be bike lockers at most stations.
Get moving in ’10: The key is for all of us to drive less—by riding bikes and buses, walking more often and consolidating trips to the grocery store—and to take advantage of the Rail Runner. “We just have to encourage people to try it for the first time, and then they realize it is efficient and convenient and very affordable,” Sylvester says. “Once they try it, they continue to use it for work and recreation.”
The other important piece is for residents to rethink energy use at home.
Ed Mazria, executive director of Architecture 2030, a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the building sector, is calling for New Mexico to lead the way in reviving the building industry—and in turn, reducing energy consumption.
Architecture 2030 is currently proposing that Congress adopt the One-Year, 4.5-Million-Jobs Investment Plan, which calls for a $30 billion investment that would provide “housing mortgage interest rate buy down” for homes that meet or exceed energy reduction targets.
Implementation of that plan, it says, would create 4.5 million new jobs and $280 billion in direct investment and spending, as well as open up $45.7 billion in the renovation market. Mazria encourages New Mexicans to urge Democratic US Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall to support the 4.5-Million-Jobs Investment Plan.
“There’s been a lot of emphasis on infrastructure projects lately,” he says, “but those projects only create temporary jobs—if we really want to create long-lasting jobs, we have got to get the private building sector back on its feet.”
Learn more about regional transportation at mrcog-nm.gov and check out the Rail Runner schedule at nmrailrunner.com
Learn more at architecture2030.org