Monthly Archives: July 2016

Need to Cut Expenses

Marissa Delman a 25-year-old intensive-care-unit nurse in New York City, wants to take her career to the next level. She wants to be a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

“I’ve wanted to specialize in anesthesiology since high school,” says Ms. Delman. Keeping the patient alive as certain functions are shut down in order to perform surgery, she says, is an “art form.”

It will cost Ms. Delman a lot of money to achieve that dream. A 27-month master’s program at Columbia University, one of the few available in the area, she says, costs about $51,000 annually. That would not include the cost of living in New York City. She would also have to quit her job. “There is no part-time option and they do not allow you to work while you’re in school,” she says.

Ms. Delman says she has saved about $70,000, enough for the first year of school and living expenses. She plans to borrow to fill in the gap, though she would like to have as little student debt as possible. The $70,000 is currently in a savings account.

Through her work at a nonprofit hospital, she has a 403b retirement savings account to which she contributes $350 from each biweekly paycheck. Her employer matches 6%. So far, she has socked away $36,000.

Ms. Delman and her boyfriend currently split monthly expenses of their apartment in New York’s Astoria neighborhood. She pays $1,100 in rent; about $40 for gas and electricity; her share for car insurance and parking is $110; and a subway pass costs $116. She spends $100 a month on groceries, and about $700 on eating out and leisure activities. She deposits about $500 per paycheck, or $1,000 a month, in her savings account.

Her boyfriend has offered to help with the rent while she is in graduate school, though Ms. Delman says her financial plan is “not yet concrete” and is likely to depend on whether she takes out a loan for both years or just the second of the two-year program.

Advice from a pro: Ken Mahoney, CEO of Mahoney Asset Management in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., says Ms. Delman’s goal seems well within reach. To start, he advises saving more and creating a better budget.

There is about $17,000 after taxes unaccounted for and not reflected in her monthly expenses or savings. Mr. Mahoney urges her to figure out where that money is being spent. A single credit card could help her keep track of expenses, or a budgeting app, like Mint.com, that will aggregate her spending into different categories. She should then set spending goals for each of those categories. She should do this with her boyfriend, as it will encourage them to save more together.

Deregulate All Electric Utilities

About two decades ago, the electric industry started getting a makeover. A number of states launched initiatives to break apart monopoly utilities and allow retail companies to sell electricity to consumers.

Today, in more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia, retail customers can shop around for the best deals on electricity, sometimes in the same way they shop around for a cellphone provider.

The question is, has the experiment with choice paid off, and is it time for the rest of the country to embrace open, competitive retail electricity markets?

Voters in Nevada apparently think so. Last week, they overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that aims to end the monopoly of the state’s largest utility and allow customers to choose their provider.

Supporters of deregulation say that monopoly utilities have little incentive to innovate or operate efficiently, and that it will take market forces to create a cheaper, cleaner, more reliable electricity system.

Opponents say choice hasn’t exactly delivered on its promise of lower prices. In fact, its legacy so far is one of price run-ups and instability, they say.

Andrew N. Kleit, a professor of energy and environmental economics at Pennsylvania State University, argues that more states should deregulate their electricity markets. Making the contrary case isKenneth Rose, an independent consultant and a senior fellow in economics at the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University.

YES: It Is the Best Way to Lower Costs and Increase Innovation

By Andrew N. Kleit

Today’s modern society requires a reliable electricity system. Anyone who has lived through a major blackout, such as occurred in the Northeast in 2003, knows that when the lights go out, life shuts down.

Users of electricity also want power to be affordable, of course, and at the same time, policy makers increasingly are demanding that more of the nation’s energy come from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

Faces Campaign Finance Charges

images-2Oklahoma state education chief Joy Hofmeister faces two state felony charges of illegal campaign-fundraising activities during her successful 2014 campaign to oust embattled then-Superintendent Janet Barresi.

A 32-page affidavit issued Nov. 3 alleges that Hofmeister for more than a year conspired with several others to funnel money from a donor corporation and two education groups into an independent expenditure fund that would finance a negative campaign ad against Barresi.

Hofmeister, who denies the allegations, was charged with “knowingly accepting contributions in excess of the maximum amounts” and two counts of “conspiracy to commit a felony.”

She faces 10 years in prison on the two conspiracy counts and a year on each of the two campaign-finance violations.

Also facing charges are Lela Odom, a former director of the Oklahoma Education Association; Steven Crawford, a former executive director of the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administration; and political consultants Fount Holland and Stephanie Milligan. Milligan was a volunteer coordinator in Oklahoma for Republican presidential victor Donald Trump.

Hofmeister and Crawford have pleaded not guilty. Hofmeister’s next hearing will be Dec. 13.

The independent expenditure group, Oklahomans for Public School Excellence, according to the affidavit, accepted donations that were illegally excessive and illegal corporate donations. Oklahoma Watch, a local news organization, profiled the group during the 2014 election season. Hofmeister, a Republican, beat out Barresi in the primary and went on to win the general election.

During a short press conference the day the charges were outlined, Hofmeister said, “I will vigorously defend my integrity and reputation against any suggestion of wrongdoing. And I will fight the allegations that have been made against me.”

Oklahoma Education Association spokesman Doug Folks said in a statement that Hofmeister and the others charged in the case will eventually be exonerated.

“In its 127-year history, the Oklahoma Education Association has advocated ethically and honorably for Oklahoma public schools, students, and education professionals,” Folks said. “We are disappointed to see that charges have been filed against former OEA Executive Director Lela Odom, but we firmly believe that when this matter is resolved, she will be cleared of any wrongdoing. In the meantime, OEA will continue our work to advance public education for the benefit of all Oklahoma students.”

Despite calls from the state’s Democratic Party leaders, Hofmeister said she will not resign.

Combative Environment

Hofmeister, though a Republican, came into office with the support of many teachers who opposed Barresi for carrying out an agenda pushed by Republicans who dominate the Oklahoma legislature.

In recent years, for example, lawmakers instituted an A-F accountability system that labeled several of the state’s schools as “failing” and began to include standardized-test scores in teacher’s evaluations. Amid a funding crisis because of a dip in oil prices, teacher pay has stalled, and mass layoffs have led many districts to go to four-day school weeks.