Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday Must Read: Japanese Attempts to Cool Reactor Fail; California Legislature OK’s Cuts to Poor, But GOP Blocks Attempt to Kill Redevelopment

By Robert Gammon
Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 7:03 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Japanese authorities resorted to desperate measures in an effort to cool an overheated nuclear reactor at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, dropping water from helicopters and spraying it from nearby fire trucks, but the attempts appear to have failed so far, The New York Times reports. High radiation levels near the plant forced crews to pull back and the Associated Press reports that much of the water dropped by helicopters appeared to disperse in the wind. Water inside at least two reactors is at dangerously low levels — or has evaporated completely — leaving radioactive fuel rods exposed and increasing the threat of a total meltdown at the plant. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned that radiation levels near the plant are extreme and that the situation is dire.

2. Both houses of the California Legislature approved about $7.4 billion cuts to social programs for the poor on Wednesday in an effort to help close a $26 billion budget deficit, the Chron reports. But Republicans stalled an effort by Governor Jerry Brown to eliminate redevelopment agencies in the state, the SacBee reports. Brown, however, hopes to secure enough GOP votes today to kill redevelopment. But the governor has yet to convince enough Republicans to go along with his plan to put tax measures on the June ballot.

3. A new Field Poll shows that a large majority of Californians want to overhaul the state’s public-employee health and pension benefits program, the SacBee reports. About 69 percent of those polled, including two-thirds of Democrats, want public employees to contribute more to their pensions and health benefits. And 56 percent want to replace the current guaranteed pension program with 401k-style plans. Neither proposal, however, is in Brown’s budget plan.

4. The University of California will have to raise tuition again, reduce enrollment, lay off staff, and increase class sizes if Republicans block Brown’s plan to put tax measures on the June ballot or if voters reject them at the polls, the Chron reports. Without the tax measures, the UC system is facing $1 billion more in cuts.

5. State regulators may vote next week to slap PG&E with fines of up to $1 million a day for its failure to produce records for a significant portion of it natural gas pipelines, the Chron reports.

6. And Blue Shield of California has abandoned its plan for another big rate hike amid heated criticism over its proposal, the Chron reports.

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