Patt Morrison for January 3, 2011

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Promising “a tough budget for tough times,” Jerry Brown became the 39th governor of California this morning, taking the helm at what is arguably the lowest point in the history of the Golden State. With at least $28 billion in deficits staring down the new (old) Gov. Brown he is about to propose a budget that will be deep in cuts and spare almost no part of the state government: local redevelopment agencies will be eliminated, social service benefits will be dramatically reduced, state parks will be closed, libraries will have their hours cut, Medi-Cal access will be restricted and both the Cal State and UC systems will see their budgets hit hard. Dealing with such a huge budget deficit six months before the traditional fiscal year ends is forcing Gov. Brown to come right out of the gate with both guns blazing, making his first 100 days crucial to closing this deficit and making the necessary structural changes to avoid future shortfalls. We look forward to what is sure to be an interesting, and painful, beginning of Gov. Brown’s third term.
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Will the death penalty resume in California in 2011?

Executions have been on hold for five years in California—the state with the most populous death row at 717 inmates—but will they resume in 2011? That depends on a ruling expected soon from federal Judge Jeremy Fogel, who in 2006 halted the execution of convicted murderer Michael A. Morales on the grounds that the means of execution were inhumane. That ruling required physicians to ensure that the sodium thiopental used to anesthetize the prisoner had taken full effect before the second injection induced paralysis and the third caused cardiac arrest. But because the American Medical Association’s ethical guidelines prohibit doctors from participating in executions, Morales' execution was called off when Judge Fogel's conditions couldn't be met. Patt talks with Judge Fogel about whether the state’s newly revised lethal injection procedures pass a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
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Back in 1999 the Regents of the University of California agreed to calculate retirement benefits for some of the highest paid executives in the UC system as a percentage of their entire salaries instead of the federally instituted limit of $245,000—it’s a complicated formula but what it accomplishes is fairly simple. At least 200 UC executives will be able to retire with very generous benefits packages at the same time that hundreds of thousands of rank-and-file UC workers, from janitors to cafeteria employees, are being asked to renegotiate their own union contracts to give back salary and pension plans. As the UC system works toward eliminating $21.6 billion in unfunded pension obligations the Regents are looking to keep the executives’ retirement packages a reasonable rate—36 of those executives wrote a letter in December threatening a “legal confrontation” if the Regents did not fulfill their promise. Should these executives, which includes the dean of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school and the UC chief investment officer, be forced to renegotiate their retirement deal like the rest of UC employees?
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Republicans take the House gavel as the 112th Congress sits

With the newly-minted Republican majority in the House, congressmen and women return to Washington this week with a weighty agenda that includes the omnibus spending bill (that failed in the lame-duck voting but will be back on the floor before freshman legislators find their offices), tax overhaul, education, immigration reform, redistricting, increased investigations of all-things Obama, and funding (or defunding) of the various parts of the health care bill. We hear about the priorities of our own California Republicans starting today with Representative John Campbell of Orange County.
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Just as a Republican controlled House returns to Washington with a bulls eye target on the health care reform bill, some of the biggest changes prompted by that hard-fought battle to overhaul the health care system are in effect as of January 1st. Americans will see the Park D “donut hole” shrink, doctors will get a 10% Medicare bonus for primary care services, premiums for income-related part B will be frozen at 2010 levels through 2019, and states can receive three-year grants to develop comprehensive health lifestyle programs for Medicaid enrollees, to name just a few. How will your health plan be affected and for how long?
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Along with Kodachrome film, 2010 marks the end of a uniquely lit era—in early compliance with the Energy Independence and Security Act, California is requiring 100-watt incandescent light bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient. And come New Year’s Day 2012, you won’t be able to buy 100-Watt incandescent bulbs anywhere in the country. The move is intended to jumpstart the market for the energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFLs, which critics complain are up to ten times as expensive, take 3 minutes to warm up, contain mercury, have limited versatility and produce a colder, flatter light than their warm predecessor. Patt lights a candle for the old bulb as Thomas Edison turns in his grave and we ring in the New Year with a sensible, sustainable LED. Are you hoarding incandescents? Are there better CFL options coming soon? Are you ready for the darker—er, poorly lit—future?
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