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Brown Struggles with Budget

Talks with centrist Republicans broke down as the deadline for June tax measures neared. Plus, Japan grapples with nuclear crisis.

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As soon as he took the oath of office in January, Jerry Brown launched an all-out campaign to pass a budget that would close California's $26 billion deficit. Last week, the Democratic-controlled legislature approved half of Brown's proposal — $14 billion in cuts that promise to further shred the state's social safety net. But with deadlines looming, the governor failed to garner any GOP support for his plan to put tax-extension measures on the June ballot and eliminate redevelopment agencies.

Brown had been negotiating with a small group of centrist Republicans, who called themselves the GOP 5, but talks unraveled amid disagreements over reforming public-employee pensions and easing regulations on businesses. The Los Angeles Times reported that the GOP 5 also sought to roll back California environmental law to make it easier for developers to build in suburbia and allow telecommunications companies to erect more cell towers.

The GOP 5 blamed public-employee unions for the breakdown in negotiations, saying the unions were blocking a compromise with Democrats. But Brown, who was elected with the help of millions in union campaign donations, said there just wasn't enough time to address the Republicans' laundry list of demands.

As for voters, they agreed with both the GOP 5 and Brown. A new Field Poll showed that 61 percent said they wanted to weigh in on Brown's proposed tax measures in the June election, and 58 percent said they intended to vote for them. At the same time, 69 percent said they wanted public employees to contribute more to their pension and health benefits. And 56 percent said they want to replace the current guaranteed-pension program with 401k-style plans.

But as of early this week, a deal between Brown and the GOP 5 still seemed remote as the governor was coming close to running out of time for calling a June election. Brown says he needs at least two GOP votes in both houses of the Legislature to put his tax measures on the ballot. But the Contra Costa Times reported that the state Republican Party voted over the weekend to oppose Brown's tax plan at all costs — even if he agreed to overhaul public-employee pensions and regulations on businesses.

Japanese Nuclear Crisis Continues

For nearly two weeks, much of the world has focused on the hour-by-hour crisis at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which was devastated by the massive earthquake and huge tsunami that slammed the country. Although health authorities repeatedly downplayed the threat of dangerous radiation reaching the West Coast of the United States, panic-stricken residents prompted a run on iodine pills in Northern California.

As of Monday, it looked as if Japanese engineers were finally making progress in stabilizing the plant's nuclear reactors and its overheated pools of spent fuel rods. Over the weekend, they successfully hooked up a two-mile power cable in an effort to restore electricity to the plant. But then they learned that they'll have to make more repairs and install new parts to replace those that were severely damaged in the disaster. It could take weeks before they bring the situation under control.

As a result, crews planned to keep spraying seawater on the dangerously hot power station from helicopters and nearby fire trucks in order to prevent a major nuclear meltdown. On Monday, the Japanese government also announced that they had already found higher-than-normal radiation levels in parts of the nation's food and water supplies and began quarantining some farming areas in the northeast.

At the same time, worldwide relief efforts got off the ground as Japan began to dig out from one of the world's worst-ever catastrophes. As of Monday, at least 18,000 people were believed to be dead and economists estimated that the costs of the disaster would reach $235 billion.

Yusuf Bey IV Trial Starts

The murder trial of Yusuf Bey IV, the former CEO of Your Black Muslim Bakery who allegedly ordered the assassination of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey in 2007, got underway Monday in an Oakland courtroom. The outcome of the trial, however, is anything but certain because the prosecutors' case against Bey IV and his alleged accomplice, Antoine Mackey, hinges largely on the testimony of confessed hitman Devaughndre Broussard, a bakery foot soldier who has repeatedly changed his story.

Bonds Trial Begins

The Barry Bonds federal perjury trial also began on Monday as a jury will decide whether the ex-Giants' star lied about his alleged steroid use. The federal case against baseball's homerun king also may be difficult to win because the judge threw out key evidence, including Bonds' alleged doping calendars, after his trainer, Greg Anderson, refused to testify.

Three-Dot Roundup

Much to the chagrin of East Bay coffee traditionalists, Reuters, citing anonymous sources, reported that Alameda-based Peet's Coffee & Tea was in talks to sell the company to Starbucks, the undisputed overlord of the specialty coffee industry. ... At least 19,000 Bay Area teachers received lay-off notices this month as school districts prepared for the possibility that state Republicans would block Brown's tax measures or voters would reject them at the ballot box. ... The Oakland Police Department continues to fail to achieve reforms mandated by the Riders settlement, the Bay Citizen reported. ... The City of Oakland agreed to pay $412,500 to a 49ers fan whose arm was broken by an Oakland cop at a Raiders game at the Coliseum. ... And UC Berkeley student co-ops are attempting to curb drug abuse by appealing to students' wallets, telling them that claims by drug victims' families will raise their out-of-pocket expenses.

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