If it’s a school day, chances are you’ll find crossing guard Tony Orosco manning his post on the corner of Lomas and Edith, keeping a keen eye out for school zone speeders. Armed with a small stop sign, a day-glow orange vest and one very loud whistle. Tony does his best to remind drivers to slow down when passing Longfellow Elementary School.
Tony and his fellow crossing guards are an essential part of a safe commute for many young students here, because this section of Lomas is 6 lanes wide and that 15 mile an hour speed limit is not always observed.
“We're just trying to keep the intersection safe for the kids.”
At 66 years old, Tony now considers himself retired, and he says being a crossing guard is a fun job.
He says he’s enjoying his retirement from telecommunications giant, Quest; however, life right now isn't necessarily care free.
“Since I'm retired I am getting my pension from Quest and Social Security, but I'm barely scratching by because of all the debt I incurred from the business.”
A few years ago, Tony owned and ran a small concrete business down in Los Lunas.
“It was the little trailers where you came and picked up your own concrete and took them to your job and worked with it...it's called short loads. And we were doing real good when we first started but in 08 and 09 when the market crashed, the business dried up completely.”
As business dried up, Tony was forced to sell. So he found a buyer, and managed to break even on his initial investment. But even though Tony wouldn’t be in debt to his bank, what he didn't take into account was how much he'd owe in taxes once the sale was complete.
“So right now I'm stuck with a $2,700 tax bill to the state and a $9,000 bill to the federal government.”
But for someone who owes the government thousands of dollars in income tax, he's still of the opinion that:
“Taxes need to be higher.”
Because while Tony doesn't love paying taxes, he says it’s a necessary evil. However he finds it frustrating that small businesses like his can get stuck with higher taxes than other, much larger corporations.
"GE...as big as it is, they make 20 billion dollars a year and they pay no taxes. In fact they got a big tax rebate from the government. I think the whole tax package, the way it's written right now needs to be reformed."
Q: "So what’s driving you to the polls this election season?"
Tony: "We need to get Obama back in office so that he can finish what he started."
Tony says that while he's disappointed that the president didn't accomplish as much as he had hoped for this term; he doesn’t think the lack of action was entirely his fault.
"I think the Republicans in Congress are trying to do everything they can to make him fail as president...they're blocking him in every way they can."
Tony has long been a Democrat and plans to vote that way again this election season because he says Democrats tend to share his core values.
"I’m also voting for Obama."
Tony’s 25 year old son Jason, who also joined us at the kitchen table that day, says he couldn’t agree more; however, his concerns have less to do with taxes and everything to do with:
"Education. We are no longer the top in the world."
Jason’s concerns about education are personal, because not only does his 5 year old daughter attend public school here in Albuquerque, he's also just a few credit hours away from graduating with his secondary education degree from the University of New Mexico.
"I think funding is very bad. I think there’s a lot of problems there with teachers getting paid. Once I graduate, I’ll only make $30,000 a year."
Which isn’t much more than he’s making currently as a UPS driver. But for him, what's most worrisome about New Mexico’s education system is our current test score based school rating system.
"Testing isn't the way to teach kids. It needs to be based more on critical thinking. Anyone can spout out facts and answer a test but if you can critically think and answer problems, that's going to take us a lot farther in the world than just knowing facts."
And he’s a firm believer that religion has no place in our education system or our government...
"There should be a definition between church and state. If we're going to teach creationism, then we need to teach every other religion's view on it. It’s the parent’s job to teach religion...not the teachers."
Because he says, teachers should always maintain a position of neutrality. Their job should be to teach, not to preach.
And with that the kitchen table that was playing host to our impromptu political conversation was needed for something far more important: lunch. Tony and Jason say they’re passionate about a variety of issues this election season, and they plan to have their voices heard on November 6th, when they make it to the polls to vote.