Patt Morrison for March 16, 2011

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How will California’s $26 billion budget deficit affect you?

Californians have seen this movie before—the state faces a massive budget deficit and drastic spending cuts, coupled with possible tax increases, are desperately needed to stave of bankruptcy. We’ve been through this so many times that perhaps we’re even a little numb to the debate, that California has been in a seemingly perpetual state of budget cutting that we simply shrug our shoulders at the specter of draconian cuts. As layoff notices start to go out to California’s teachers and local agencies prepare to close offices, lose workers and cut services, it’s good to review exactly how a $26 billion budget deficit will impact the average citizen. What will disappear from our daily lives, what public employees will see their jobs eliminated, what pot holes will go unfilled, what infrastructure projects will be scaled back, what long term planning will suffer? As the legislature prepares to vote on a final budget we walk you through a huge deficit to see how it will impact your life.
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Christian Gheorghiu is a sensation in the Los Angeles art world. He gained brand recognition for his nickname “Smear,” by tagging it thousands of times across the walls, lampposts and riverbed of Los Angeles. Now, the city attorney’s office is seeking a first-of-its kind injunction against him and nine others to prevent them from profiting off their “unlawful marketing.” If granted, the injunction would prevent those ten from selling photographs of their illegal graffiti and from carrying “graffiti tools”—paint, markers, pens and pencils—in public between 10 pm and 5 am. Similar injunctions have been upheld throughout Los Angeles in the case of gangs, but Gheorghiu has no past gang convictions. The ACLU calls the lawsuit an assault on artistic freedom and a violation of the group’s first amendment rights; it intends to dictate art; and to bar those who break into the art world illegally from profiting in their later career. The city attorney’s office argues the injunction simply seeks to deter unlawful graffiti. The debate of course harkens back to the perennial question: what is art?
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Democrats’ solution to budget woes: tax the rich

You could be excused if you’ve heard this debate before: in an effort to close a roughly $14 trillion national debt and $1.3 billion annual budget deficit, Democrats are proposing surtaxes on the richest Americans while Republicans are proposing steep cuts in discretionary spending. This is very similar to the debate that raged in December over the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, which eventually concluded in a compromise between Congressional Republicans and President Obama that would keep tax cuts in place for all Americans for the next two years, including the richest. Rep. Jan Schakowsky in the House & Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Senate have both introduced bills that enact new tax brackets for income starting at $1 million and ending with a $1 billion bracket, arguing that tax increases on the very rich can help control the deficit and preserve spending on social programs. Republicans have shown zero willingness to consider tax increases, sticking with a plan that would cut up to $60 billion in spending. What’s your preferred way to solve the country’s considerable deficit problem?
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College kids in a college town can tip the balance of an election, so much so that they’re becoming a threat to entrenched local political interests. “Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” said William O’Brien, Speaker of the New Hampshire legislature and author of a bill that would permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established legal residency there. Students “lack experience,” said Speaker O’Brien, “they just vote their feelings.” This is one of many bills in several states that are being pushed by resurgent Republican legislators that, depending on whose argument you’re listening to, are righteously reforming local elections to benefits true locals or punishing traditional Democratic voting blocks. It’s no coincidence that many of the states that are considering similar legislation are expected to be battlegrounds in 2012, Wisconsin, North Carolina and New Hampshire among others. There are also photo-ID bills coming in many states that could inhibit the vote of immigrant groups. Are these bills solid, practical legislation or thinly veiled political attacks?
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How to get it (your credit score, that is) up

Need some inspiration to get your credit score up a little higher? One word: perks. Banks are aggressively marketing to those with excellent credit offering enticements like few or no fees, 0% interest on new purchases for one year on balance transfers, even free companion tickets on flights (if you are lucky enough to have Citi’s ThankYou Prestige card). On the other end of the spectrum, Bank of America is sending out notices informing customers who carry a high balance or make late payments that their annual fee is going up to $59.00. A year ago, a customer might not pay a fee at all. The recession has wreaked havoc on the housing market, Wall Street, and most of all American’s credit score. What can you do about it? Ask Patt.
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