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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

'Cash for Clunkers' Bill Passes House with Support of NM's Three Congressmen

Have a clunky old vehicle that costs a fortune in gas costs? Would you like to take advantage of a deep discount to replace it with a vehicle that gets great mileage and is easier on the environment? Today, Congressmen Harry Teague, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan voted for a bill that might help you do just that -- if your old vehicle and new new vehicle meet certain requirements.

New Mexico's entire House delegation voted in favor of a “cash for clunkers” program that passed the House today. The bill will allow consumers to trade in their old, gas-guzzling cars for vouchers worth up to $4,500 to help pay for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles. According to a statement released by the trio today, H.R. 2751, The Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act, will spur the sale of up to one million more fuel-efficient cars and trucks nationwide, while stimulating the ailing auto industry and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

The legislation provides rebates for cars and trucks in the following four categories:

· Passenger Cars: The old vehicle must get 18 mpg or less. New vehicles with improvement of at least 4 mpg will get a $3,500 voucher. New vehicles with improvement of at least 10 mpg will get a $4,500 voucher.

· Light-Duty Trucks: The old vehicle must get 18 mpg or less. New vehicles with improvement of at least 2 mpg will get a $3,500 voucher. New vehicles with improvement of at least 5 mpg will get a $4,500 voucher.

· Large light-Duty Trucks: The old vehicle must get 15 mpg or less. New vehicles with improvement of at least 1 mpg will get a $3,500 voucher or trade-in of a “work truck.” New vehicles with improvement of at least 2 mpg will get a $4,500 voucher.

· Work Trucks: The old vehicle must be a pre-2002 model. New vehicles in the same or smaller weight class will get a $3,500 voucher.

“You can’t teach an old car new tricks. Gas-guzzling cars put a strain on your wallet and the environment,” said Congressman Martin Heinrich. “This bill would give consumers incentive to trade-in inefficient cars and trucks for a more environmentally friendly vehicle, which would stimulate car sales and increase the number of fuel-efficient cars on the road.”

“There are a lot of miles of highway in southern New Mexico and many of my constituents drive long distances to see family, get to work or just to go to the grocery store and with the price of gas being on the rise daily travel can get pretty expensive,” said Congressman Harry Teague “This program will allow constituents looking to save some money and upgrade to a more fuel efficient vehicle the chance to do so with some extra money in their pockets.”

“The legislation helps families trade in their gas guzzlers for a more energy efficient car, which will help our economy and our environment,” said Congressman Ben Ray Luján. “The program will benefit New Mexicans by assisting them in purchasing a car that is more energy efficient, cutting down on their gas bills.”

The bipartisan legislation is supported by a broad coalition that includes the AFL-CIO, UAW, car dealers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

June 9, 2009 at 07:07 PM in Economy, Populism, Energy, Environment, NM Congressional Delegation, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, Rep. Harry Teague (NM-02), Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0)

U.S. House Science & Technology Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Environmental Research, Luján’s Energy Park Bill

BrlToday, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing on environmental research at the Department of Energy. The hearing examined climate and environmental research programs conducted by the Department of Energy as well as Rep. Ben Ray Luján’s National Environmental Research Park (NERP) bill, H.R. 2729. Dr. Nate McDowell of Los Alamos National Laboratory gave testimony at the hearing (see written testimony (pdf). Rep. Luján is a member of the Committee on Science and Technology.

“I’m glad that we conducted a hearing to discuss environmental research by the Department of Energy along with the National Energy Research Park legislation I introduced last week,” said Rep. Luján in a statement released today. “The witnesses provided excellent testimony that will help shape future efforts to address issues from climate change to contamination.”

According to Rep. Luján's office, Dr. Nate McDowell of Los Alamos National Laboratory talked about the advanced laser facility at the Los Alamos NERP which uses laser technology to observe and monitor carbon dioxide emissions. He discussed the importance of coordination between the NERPs and collaboration on their respective research projects. He also talked about how NERPs are not consistently funded and often do not have the necessary resources to utilize their full environmental research potential.

Other witnesses included Dr. Dave Bader, Director, Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison; Dr. Paul Hanson, Group Leader, Ecosystem and Plant Sciences, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Dr. J. Whitfield Gibbons, Professor of Ecology at the University of Georgia and a Senior Research Ecologist at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

Dr. Hanson discussed how the NERPs are comprised of preserved land in its natural state which provides a research environment necessary to understanding the environmental impacts of humans and industrial development. Dr. Bader discussed climate modeling and simulation. Dr. Gibbons elaborated on the habitat reconstruction research performed at the Savannah River NERP and how they use the NERP to study and create new energy technologies.

Last week, Rep. Luján that will promote environmental science programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory by authorizing funding for its NERP as well as for six other NERPs throughout the country.

The research conducted at the NERPs produces valuable data that can be used to fight climate change and clean up contaminated sites. The NERPs have existed for decades and have enormous potential for studying the impact of climate change on the environment. With the new authorization and consistent funding, they can expand their research activities. Rep. Luján’s legislation authorizes $5,000,000 for each NERP for each of the fiscal years 2010 through 2014. The legislation has been referred to the Committee on Science and Technology.

“These parks are unique outdoor laboratories that offer secure settings for long-term research on a broad range of subjects, including wildlife biology, ecology, climate change effects, and maintenance of freshwater ecosystems,” Rep. Luján said when the legislation was introduced last week. “The parks also provide rich environments for training future researchers and introducing the public to environmental sciences.”

For more information about the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Parks, visit www.nerp.rnl.gov/. For more information about the Los Alamos National Environmental Research Park, visit this web page. Click for a transcript of Rep. Luján's remarks upon introducing his NERP bill.

To see our previous posts on Rep. Luján, visit our archive.

June 9, 2009 at 02:43 PM in Environment, Government, Land Issues, NM Congressional Delegation, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, Science | |

Rep. Teague Introduces Bill to Assist Vets Traveling for Medical Care

HarryTeagueHeadCongressman Harry Teague serves on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and he's been proactive in sponsoring, co-sponsoring and voting for legislation to help veterans and their families in a variety of ways. Today, Rep. Teague announced another of his initiatives on behalf of vets. He has introduced legislation to assist family caregivers that accompany veterans when they have to travel to be seen by a doctor. HR 2738, the Veterans’ Family Caregiver Assistance Act, would expand the Department of Veterans’ Affairs authority to make per diem and lodging payments to family members caring for veterans that are receiving medical treatment. Family members are often responsible for transporting ailing veterans to and from doctor’s appointments which takes most veterans an average travel time of two and a half to three hours.

“For many of the veterans in the 2nd Congressional District, accessing the healthcare they have earned and deserve takes hours and often times days away from home,” said Congressman Harry Teague in a statement released today. “The legislation I’ve introduced would give our veterans more transportation options when traveling to see a doctor as well as ease some of the costs incurred by family caregivers during travel.”

The legislation was introduced after a series of meetings Congressman Teague held with veterans while traveling throughout New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. In addition to in-person meetings, Teague also held a to get input, feedback and ideas for legislation that will best help them receive the medical care and benefits they have earned and deserve.

“I worked for and earned a seat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee because addressing the veterans community’s concerns and needs is a top priority for me,” said Congressman Harry Teague. “Staying in touch with our veterans both when I am in Washington and when I am back home helps me develop legislation like the Caregivers Assistance act to address a problem that many of our veterans are currently struggling with.”

The New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Affairs (NMDVA) estimates that approximately 56,000 veterans in New Mexico have to be transported to a Veterans’ Hospital annually. Currently, the only option for family caregivers to stay overnight with loved ones that are receiving medical treatment is to apply to stay in one of the 27 beds offered at the Veterans’ hospital. Renting a hotel room at their own expense is often times cost prohibitive for family caregivers as well.

The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

To see our previous posts on Congressman Teague, visit our archive.

June 9, 2009 at 01:51 PM in Children and Families, Healthcare, Military Affairs, NM Congressional Delegation, Rep. Harry Teague (NM-02), Veterans | |

Thursday Night in ABQ: Morningside Park GLBT Memorial Dedication, Candlelight Vigil


From Albuquerque Pride: Every year the Albuquerque Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community commemorates pride and identity with Pridefest. Pridefest is comprised of a wide variety of events including pageants, concerts, family activities, dancing and the most fun parade in all of New Mexico. The first Albuquerque Pridefest event took place in 1977 with fewer than 100 participants. Last year an estimated 30,000 people attended the three‐day Pridefest which is run and organized by Albuquerque Pride, a not for profit organization.

This Thursday, June 11, at 6:00 PM, the GLBT Community will celebrate 32 years of Pride with the dedication of a GLBT Memorial Art Sculpture by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez in Morningside Park at Morningside Drive and Lead Ave. SE in the Nob Hill district. The Albuquerque sculpture is only the second in the nation to be dedicated by a city to its GLBT community with New York City being the first. The sculpture dedication ceremony will be followed by a Candlelight Vigil where community members will commemorate previous Pride festivals.

State Senator Cisco McSorley and City Councilors Rey Garduño and Isaac Benton are also expected to participate. Everyone is invited to join in the festivities.

Thursday schedule of Pride events:

  • 6:00 PM: Morningside Park GLBT Memorial Art Sculpture Dedication
  • 6:30 PM: Pride Candlelight Vigil
  • 9:00 PM: Reception at Albuquerque Social Club

Additional Pridefest events will take place Friday and Saturday, June 12-13. Click for a complete schedule of 2009 Pride events.

June 9, 2009 at 12:09 PM in Civil Liberties, Events, GLBT Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 30: Discuss Health Care Reform with Health Action NM in Santa Fe

From Health Action NM: Interested in plans for comprehensive health care reform at the federal level? Health Action New Mexico is presenting an interactive discussion on national health care reform on Tuesday, June 30, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at St. Bede's Episcopal Church at 1601 S. St. Francis Drive in Santa Fe. Join the leading health care advocacy organization in New Mexico in discussing crucial health care issues and providing you with the opportunity to voice your needs and expectations.

Your input and feedback from this session will be presented to our Congressional Delegation, other legislators, and partners at the federal level as specific reform concepts and legislative proposals emerge. Please RSVP to Deema Tabbara Lopez at deematabbara@gmail.com or (805) 907-6681 or (505) 867-1095. Click for a flyer (pdf). For more information, visit www.healthactionnm.org.

June 9, 2009 at 11:04 AM in Events, Healthcare | |

Monday, June 08, 2009

Must Read on Canadian vs. U.S. Health Care Systems

Well heeled critics of a single-payer system for health care in America frequently use the Canadian system as a punching bag. They employ scare tactics and insist that if we switch to a system similar to our northern neighbors, the quality and accessibility of our system will be destroyed. Not surprisingly -- given the money at stake for the corporate health care industry -- the critics use easy-to-debunk myths about Canadian health care and what it costs to back up their self-serving arguments.

I'm pleased to see that the editorial department of the Denver Post has published a convincing editorial -- written by a Canadian -- that puts the most common rumors and myths about Canadian health care to rest. Please, read it now and pass it along to friends, family and colleagues who argue against adopting a single-payer system in America using the distorted "facts" that have been spewing forth from for-profits and insurers for many moons. Here's a listing of the false "facts," but it's definitely worth your time to read the entire op-ed for more info on why these myths are just plain wrong:

  • Myth: Taxes in Canada are extremely high, mostly because of national health care.
  • Myth: Canada's health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.
  • Myth: The Canadian system is significantly more expensive than that of the U.S.
  • Myth: Canada's government decides who gets health care and when they get it.
  • Myth: There are long waits for care, which compromise access to care.
  • Myth: Canadians are paying out of pocket to come to the U.S. for medical care.
  • Myth: Canada is a socialized health care system in which the government runs hospitals and where doctors work for the government.
  • Myth: There aren't enough doctors in Canada.

June 8, 2009 at 02:07 PM in Obama Administration | |

State Senator Tim Keller Proposes Comprehensive NM Investment Fund Reforms

SKELLState Senator Tim Keller (D-17, Albuquerque), is calling for comprehensive reform of the way in which New Mexico handles its large trust funds in response to a variety of recent controversies related to state fund investments. As he explained at a recent neighborhood gathering:

“The recent issues surrounding our state funds speak to a clear need for better performance, accountability and the mitigation of conflicts of interest in our investment operations. We need to address the structural causes that allowed this to happen. The public deserves more than just knowing what has been occurring inside our state investment funds, they want solutions."

“When we speak of our state’s investment funds we are really talking about our ability to fund our schools, economic development, healthcare and social services. It is also important that New Mexico shows the greater financial community that we are professional, diligent and expect strong fund performance,” Senator Keller noted.

The state's Investment Oversight Committee is meeting in Santa Fe today and, according to a statement released by Senator Keller, he will submit recommendations to work with the executive branch, legislature leadership, state funds and the broader finance community to preserve the sanctity of state funds and work to restore public faith in New Mexico's investment process. After discussions with numerous individuals in the investment field in and out of our state, as well as with the Legislative Council Service, Senator Keller reports that he has consolidated potential solutions for consideration by the interim committee on investment oversight that include:

  • Redesign the governance structure of the state investment funds based on the separation of stakeholders, experts and staff. Create formal committee structures and requiring investment qualifications to reduce conflict of interested, improve oversight, effectiveness and accountability.
  • Require a public fund “prospectus” similar to other funds that outlines allocations, goals, and processes for each fund each year
  • Determine the right balance of diversification of financial advisors (i.e. have a different advisor and fund partners vs consolidating advisors into a few relationships with full service financial institution).
  • Specify clear delegation of authority to oversight boards (approval requirements) for staff and advisors based on investment size, liquidation preference and other risk factors to create clear lines of accountability for all investments
  • Require tracking of not just benchmarks but allocation and performance comparables for a basket of “peer” funds (endowments, other states etc.)
  • Consider writing down Private Equity investments based on implied market value to ensure ‘real value’ of the fund for expected returns and planning purposes.
  • Discontinue allowing individuals and entities to play the role of advisors and fund managers, and across funds, to reduce conflicts of interest and reduce risk.
  • Specify an “arm’s length” for all transactions, meaning the market would determine all related fees and associated advisors and all relationships would be disclosed in advance of any decision.

Further details are outlined in an distributed by Keller. Senator Keller also released a comparative analysis contrasting how New Mexico's funds and other large trusts are operated, as well as charts that compare how the assets of these funds are allocated.

Senator Keller carried HB 876 (M. Garcia) in the Senate this year, which made it a felony for third-party marketers not to disclose fees. After signage by the Governor, this legislation has enabled the state and the public to uncover fees that were charged. Keller, a freshman Senator, has professional experience in corporate governance, securities and alternative investments.

June 8, 2009 at 12:18 PM in Finance, Investments, Government, Legal Issues, NM Legislature 2009, Regulation | |

Rep. Luján Named Ex-Officio Member of the Institute of American Indian Arts Board of Trustees

BRLujanCommiteeCrQuite an honor. Rep. Ben Ray Luján has been named an ex-officio member of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Board of Trustees. The IAIA is located in Santa Fe and aims to empower creativity and leadership in Native arts and cultures through higher education, lifelong learning and outreach. Rep. Luján replaces Congressman Dale E. Kildee of Michigan on the board.

“I would like to express my gratitude for my appointment as an ex-officio member of the Institute of American Indian Arts board of trustees,” said Rep. Luján in a statement released today. “To be able to follow Representative Kildee in service to IAIA is an honor and the leadership he exhibited during his tenure on the board is a legacy I will work hard to continue.”

According Rep. Lujan's office, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), also known as the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture and Arts Development, was Congressionally chartered in 1986. It was originally funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and opened in October of 1962 on the campus of the Indian School in Santa Fe, NM.

The Institute offers four-year degrees in Studio Arts, Visual Communication, Creative Writing and Museum Studies. It is located in one of the most diverse concentrations of Native peoples in North America, in the heart one of the nation’s oldest multi-cultural communities and in one of the largest art markets in the country.

By serving Native students from across the country, the IAIA allows for a unique cultural exchange within the student learning environment. In any given year, there may be up to 112 different tribes represented within the student body. The Institute also participates in outreach programs to the 19 New Mexico Pueblos. Because of their close proximity to the campus, students experience the rich cultures and traditions of the Pueblos first-hand.

For our previous posts on Rep. Lujan, visit our archive.

June 8, 2009 at 10:56 AM in Art, Native Americans, NM Congressional Delegation, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan | Permalink | >Comments (4)

Teamsters Union Endorses Richard Romero for Mayor of Albuquerque

Richard Romero speaking at DFA-DFNM Meetup this month

Richard Romero announced in a statement released late yesterday that he has received the endorsement of the New Mexico Teamsters Union in his run for the Mayor of Albuquerque.

“We stand with those who champion working families, and Richard Romero has a proven record as a fighter,” said Walter R. Maestas, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local Union 492. “We are proud to be the first union to endorse him for mayor.”

“It’s an honor to receive this important endorsement,” said Romero. “As mayor, I will continue to stand up for our city’s workers and the unions that back them. My roots are with this union -- my father was a warehouse man at Sandia Labs and a proud member of the Teamsters.”

The union pointed to Romero’s strong track record of standing with working families, citing the important work he did as a State Senator and Senator Pro Tem where Romero:

  • Fought for minimum wage increases;
  • Opposed privatization of prisons and stood up to voice strong disapproval of the unethical action taken by Manny Aragon in becoming a lobbyist for private prison operator, Wackenhut, while simultaneously serving in the Senate;
  • Carried the collective bargaining bill that allowed state workers to organize.

This is an important endorsement for Romero's campaign in keeping with his reputation as a fighter for worker's rights and policies that benefit New Mexico families.

June 8, 2009 at 09:10 AM in 2009 Albuquerque Mayoral Race, Labor | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

White House Council of Economic Advisers Releases Report on Impact of Health Care Reform

As a White House press release states, President Obama has articulated an ambitious agenda for health care reform -- containing cost while maintaining quality and choice, and providing affordable care for all Americans. Even though the President has ruled out a health reform bill that provides for single-payer coverage -- which would cut costs most effectively -- it's clear he's serious about providing some form of universal coverage. Last week, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released a comprehensive report detailing the potential economic gains from achieving significant reform, while also addressing the risks to the economy of maintaining the status quo. Click to download a copy of the report (pdf).

The key finding of the 56-page study is that the benefits of reform would be substantial. For example, health care reform that truly “bends the curve” in costs could boost Gross Domestic Product by nearly 8% in 2030. For a typical American family of four, health care reform could result in an additional $10,000 in income by 2030 than they otherwise would have enjoyed.

According to the CEA report, Health care expenditures currently account for 18% of our nation’s GDP and if we remain on our current path, health care spending is expected to reach 34% -- over a third -- of GDP by 2040. Rising health care costs are contributing to the deficit and undermining the ability of our small businesses to compete in the global economy. For working Americans who rely on employer-sponsored health insurance, rising costs mean that an ever greater proportion of their compensation comes in the form of health benefits rather than take-home pay. And rising premiums mean more money out of their pockets, too.

In New Mexico, for example, the average annual premium for employer-sponsored family coverage rose from $5,587 in 1996 to $11,834 in 2006.

The main findings of the report:

--We estimate that slowing the annual growth rate of health care costs by 1.5 percentage points would increase real gross domestic product (GDP), relative to the no-reform baseline, by over 2 percent in 2020 and nearly 8 percent in 2030.

--For a typical family of four, this implies that income in 2020 would be approximately $2,600 higher than it would have been without reform (in 2009 dollars), and that in 2030 it would be almost $10,000 higher. Under more conservative estimates of the reduction in the growth rate of health care costs, the income gains are smaller, but still substantial.

--Slowing the growth rate of health care costs will prevent disastrous increases in the Federal budget deficit.

--Slowing cost growth would lower the unemployment rate consistent with steady inflation by approximately one-quarter of a percentage point for a number of years. The beneficial impact on employment in the short and medium run (relative to the no-reform baseline) is estimated to be approximately 500,000 each year that the effect is felt.

--Expanding health insurance coverage to the uninsured would increase net economic well-being by roughly $100 billion a year, which is roughly two-thirds of a percent of GDP.

--Reform would likely increase labor supply, remove unnecessary barriers to job mobility, and help to “level the playing field” between large and small businesses.

Clearly, we cannot afford to do nothing. Our job is to keep the pressure on so that the for-profit health care sector doesn't get to call all the shots. If they do, we may well end up with something even worse than we have now.

June 7, 2009 at 11:12 AM in Economy, Populism, Healthcare, Obama Administration | |

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