* Updates Since Early This Morning

Republicans to propose repeal of California fire tax -- Republicans plan to call for the repeal of a controversial wildfire fee that Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature imposed on rural homeowners last year to cover the cost of wildland firefighting. Michael J. Mishak in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

Assembly panel blocks expansion of court computer system -- An Assembly budget subcommittee voted unanimously Wednesday to block expansion of a statewide court case management system that has become the focal point of a months-long political war between the state's judicial leadership and some rebel judges. Dan Walters SacBee Capitol Alert -- 3/14/12

Supreme Court supports San Diego water transfer -- The state Supreme Court Wednesday untied one of many legal knots surrounding the ongoing transfer of water between the San Diego County Water Authority and Imperial Valley farmers. Michael Gardner UT San Diego -- 3/14/12

Steinberg 'happy and relieved' over ballot deal -- Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg celebrated a deal Wednesday between Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Federation of Teachers to place a compromise tax initiative on the November ballot. Kevin Yamamura SacBee Capitol Alert -- 3/14/12

Jerry Brown hails compromise tax proposal -- Gov. Jerry Brown championed an apparent deal with liberal Democrats over dueling tax initiatives as "a winning strategy" Wednesday, while a top Democrat formally outlined the proposal for reporters. Anthony York LA Times PolitiCal$ -- 3/14/12

Brown makes tax deal with group -- Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday that he has reached a deal with a rival group to combine forces on a November ballot initiative seeking to raise taxes, a move that will allow Democratic-leaning interests to align behind a single, high-stakes budget proposition. ROBERT JABLON and JULIET WILLIAMS Associated Press Kevin Yamamura SacBee Capitol Alert John Myers Capitol Notes Steven Harmon in the San Jose Mercury Anthony York LA Times PolitiCal$ -- 3/14/12

California gasoline prices may be dropping very soon -- That’s because the price for the nation's most expensive raw or unfinished gasoline, known as CARBOB, has been plumetting from its February highs, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey. Ronald D. White in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

Prominent California lobbyist Rod Blonien found dead at home -- Rod Blonien, a Capitol fixture for years as Deukmejian administration official and later as a major lobbyist for gambling and horse racing interests, was found dead in his home Tuesday, the apparent victim of a heart attack. He was 55. Dan Walters SacBee Capitol Alert -- 3/14/12

CalPERS OKs reduction in investment forecast, costing state extra $167 million per year -- CalPERS gave final approval today to a quarter-point reduction in its investment forecast, but will look at softening the fiscal impact on government budgets. Dale Kasler in the Sacramento Bee JUDY LIN Associated Press Michael B. Marois Bloomberg -- 3/14/12

Pension Benefit Costs Cut by Record 43 States, Study Says -- Pension benefits for U.S. public workers were reduced by a record 43 states over three years to cut costs following the longest recession since the 1930s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Darrell Preston Bloomberg -- 3/14/12

Brown faulted for taking down transparency website -- Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to take down a "transparency" website helped earn California a D-minus grade on public reporting of spending from a group advocating for open government. Patrick McGreevy LA Times PolitiCal$ Torey Van Oot SacBee Capitol Alert -- 3/14/12

California Directs Insurers to Cut Lapsed Borrowers’ Rates -- A California regulator has directed insurers to lower their rates for clients who lapsed on their previous residential policies amid reports of “questionable financial integration” between the companies and lenders. Charles Mead and Andrea Ludtke Bloomberg -- 3/14/12

Teach a high school class, date a student -- lose your pension? -- Angered by a 41-year-old Modesto teacher who moved in with an 18-year-old student, a California lawmaker is crafting legislation that would strip teachers of their retirement benefits in such cases. Jim Sanders SacBee Capitol Alert -- 3/14/12

Fox: Reconsidering the Term Limits Law -- Another term limit change will be on the June ballot and I think it’s worth considering if the current term limit law should be altered. Joel Fox Fox & Hounds -- 3/14/12

US Senate passes bill extending county payments -- A one-year renewal of county timber payments has passed the U.S. Senate as part of the major transportation bill. JEFF BARNARD Associated Press -- 3/14/12

Romney insists he wins by losing -- Mitt Romney’s campaign stuck to its case that he’s still winning the GOP nomination battle Wednesday, despite the fact that the former Massachusetts governor placed third in two important Southern states that are part of the Republican Party base. REID J. EPSTEIN Politico -- 3/14/12

AT&T seeks to settle -- quietly -- with iPhone user who won throttling case -- AT&T is offering to discuss a settlement to an iPhone user who won a small-claims case that alleged the company was slowing down his "unlimited" data service. A law firm retained by AT&T also threatened in a letter dated Friday to shut off Matthew Spaccarelli's phone service if he doesn't sit down to talk. Peter Svensson Associated Press -- 3/14/12

Homeless on the Bay -- A growing number of homeless people are taking up illegal residence on off-anchor boats — and some say their presence is causing increased environmental pollution and crime. Amina Waheed East Bay Express -- 3/14/12

Mary Hayashi's House Raises Ethical Questions -- Financial disclosures reveal that the embattled Assemblywoman rents one of her homes to her employee. Steven Tavares East Bay Express -- 3/14/12

DeVore: Texas vs. California -- One in five Americans calls California or Texas home. The two most populous states have a lot in common: a long coast, a sunny climate, a diverse population, plenty of oil in the ground, and Mexico to the south. Where they diverge is in their governance. Chuck DeVore National Review -- 3/14/12

Castle Rock State Park saved from the closure list -- Castle Rock State Park, a rugged expanse of Douglas fir and madrone trees known for its sweeping views to the Pacific Ocean and honey-combed sandstone rock formations, will be removed from the state's closure list. Paul Rogers in the San Jose Mercury -- 3/14/12

 

   California Policy and Politics This Morning

CalPERS set to lower its investment forecast, pushing state cost up -- CalPERS could have socked the state for another $425 million. Instead, it chose a compromise measure that's expected to cost $167 million. Dale Kasler in the Sacramento Bee Teri Sforza in the Orange County Register Marc Lifsher in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

A 'yes' in Assembly may be 'no' in reality -- By long- standing tradition, lawmakers in California's Assembly who are running for re-election or are seeking a new seat this year will tout their yes or no votes on all manner of bills in the coming months. Juliet Williams Associated Press -- 3/14/12

UC Davis pepper-spray report puts spotlight on police officers' rights -- Decades of debate over the public's right to know about police actions vs. officers' rights to privacy are coming to a head as a result of the pepper-spraying of students last November on the UC Davis campus. Sam Stanton in the Sacramento Bee -- 3/14/12

Supervisor Nadia Lockyer absent as key votes near -- Alameda County Supervisor Nadia Lockyer, whose election cost her and her supporters a record-shattering $1.6 million, has missed 43 percent of the board's regular meetings since she took office in January 2011, according to records. Carolyn Jones in the San Francisco Chronicle -- 3/14/12

Walters: Cloudiness over California school funding increases -- Educating 6 million kids is not only the largest single piece of the state budget, but its most popular one – which explains why it always drives the Capitol's annual budget ritual. Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee -- 3/14/12

Morain: Bigotry is a near-daily battle for Villaraigosa -- Whether you call it a process or evolution, we have a long way to go. Just how much further we must go became evident the other day as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and I walked out of the Capitol. Dan Morain in the Sacramento Bee -- 3/14/12

California teachers union pushed pollster to drop Jerry Brown's tax rival -- When wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger began drawing up a proposed tax hike to fund education last fall, she partly relied on polls by The Mellman Group, a well-known D.C. polling firm that regularly worked for advocates of increased funding for California public schools. Nicholas Riccardi LA Times PolitiCal$ -- 3/14/12

A new 'Cathie Wright' will be on Simi Valley ballots -- Growing up the daughter of a woman who served 20 years in the California Legislature and was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 1994, Victoria Catherine Wright said she learned a few things about politics from her mother. Timm Herdt in the Ventura Star -- 3/14/12

Herdt: In polarized politics, is there room on the equator? -- If you follow politics much, chances are that in the partisan struggle between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, you've pretty much picked a side. Timm Herdt in the Ventura Star -- 3/14/12

Postal cuts could force change in California voting -- California lawmakers and election officials worried about the effect of postal closures on elections are considering extending the voting period for mail-in-ballots, a move that could delay results by days or even weeks. HANNAH DREIER Associated Press Josh Richman Political Blotter-- 3/14/12

Senators demand Obama tsunami program cuts be restored -- Alarmed at the Obama administration's proposed cuts to America's tsunami warning and preparedness programs, six U.S. senators from California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii on Tuesday demanded the money be put back in the budget. Paul Rogers in the Contra Costa Times -- 3/14/12

Mirkarimi plea bargain OK with victims' advocates -- Advocates for domestic violence victims, who worked hard to shape public opinion surrounding the Ross Mirkarimi saga and keep it in the spotlight, were satisfied with the outcome of his criminal case. Rachel Gordon in the San Francisco Chronicle -- 3/14/12

Mirkarimi's next challenge: paying the lawyers -- With his domestic violence case behind him, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is facing another big challenge - legal bills that are at $125,000 and rising. Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle -- 3/14/12

CalBuzz: Consultants: How CA GOP Might Become Relevant -- Even before we offered our blinding insights into how the latest PPIC poll shows that California Republicans are wholly out of touch with mainstream opinion in the state, Calbuzz asked our brilliant California Consultanate to tell us what the GOP can do to become relevant once again. Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine CalBuzz -- 3/14/12

Judicial race debate challenge -- A prosecutor running for judge in Riverside County in the June 5 election has challenged the incumbent to a debate. RICHARD K. De ATLEY in the Riverside Press -- 3/14/12

California bill would ban violent fans from games -- A state assemblyman from Los Angeles who was infuriated by the near-fatal beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow outside Dodger Stadium last year has introduced a bill that would create a list of hooligans banned from attending professional sporting events. Demian Bulwa in the San Francisco Chronicle Jim Sanders in the Sacramento Bee -- 3/14/12

PG&E's records operation still a mess, audit says -- Pervasive and potentially dangerous gaps persist in Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s record-keeping operation 18 months after the San Bruno disaster, despite company pronouncements that it is working to make its natural-gas system safer, according to the draft findings of an independent audit expected to be completed this month. Jaxon Van Derbeken in the San Francisco Chronicle -- 3/14/12

PG&E opens new gas-operations center in San Ramon -- PG&E, seeking to fortify its gas operations after the lethal San Bruno disaster, will shift hundreds of employees to a single San Ramon office complex that will also contain a state-of-the-art gas control center, the utility told this newspaper Tuesday, prior to making a public announcement about the situation. George Avalos in the San Jose Mercury -- 3/14/12

   Economy - Jobs

High speed rail chief: Bullet train won't cost $100 billion -- Promising "improvements" to the state's controversial bullet train plan, the new head of the project told a Senate hearing in Silicon Valley on Tuesday he now believes building high-speed rail would cost less than the alarming estimate of nearly $100 billion. Mike Rosenberg in the San Jose Mercury -- 3/14/12

Construction jobs increase in California, 34 other states -- Construction employment grew in 35 states in January from December, with California adding the most jobs -- 8,900, or a 1.6% increase. Nancy Rivera Brooks in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

California survey finds small-business pessimism -- A majority of small-business executives remain pessimistic about California's prospects, weighed down by concern about the economy, education and health care, a new survey found. Darrell Smith in the Sacramento Bee -- 3/14/12

Foreclosure Settlement Relief Could Come Slowly -- Homeowners looking for immediate relief from foreclosure are unlikely to find it in the $18 billion settlement announced last month between the nation's five largest mortgage servicers and California Attorney General Kamala Harris. AARON GLANTZ Bay Citizen -- 3/14/12

Sacramento area's foreclosure, mortgage delinquency rates continue to drop -- Slowly, inch by inch, foreclosure and home loan delinquency rates in the Sacramento area continue to decline, according to CoreLogic, the Santa Ana-based mortgage-tracking company. Mark Glover in the Sacramento Bee -- 3/14/12

Santa Clara City Council finalizes 49ers stadium deal -- In a move that could allow the bulldozers to start their engines any day, the Santa Clara City Council on Tuesday finalized the lease, budget and overall terms of the massive San Francisco 49ers' stadium project. Howard Mintz in the San Jose Mercury -- 3/14/12

Cost of 49ers Santa Clara stadium now $1.2 billion -- The cost of the 49ers' new stadium in Santa Clara has increased by $157 million to nearly $1.2 billion, as revealed in the first of several key approvals the city made this week. Stephanie M. Lee in the San Francisco Chronicle -- 3/14/12

March ARB fighter jets safe for now -- Following discussions that spanned several weeks, the military has rejected the idea of dismantling the Air National Guard’s 144th wing, which keeps two F-16 fighter jets at March Air Reserve Base, a guard official said Tuesday. MARK MUCKENFUSS in the Riverside Press -- 3/14/12

Federal energy loan guarantee program faces scrutiny -- Lawmakers had some tough questions Tuesday about a federal loan guarantee program that brought billions of dollars to solar energy projects in Riverside and San Bernardino counties — and lost hundreds of millions on the now-infamous Solyndra debacle. BEN GOAD in the Riverside Press -- 3/14/12

Solar installations doubled last year -- The amount of photovoltaic solar panels installed in the United States more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, representing a historic year for the American solar industry. Dana Hull in the San Jose Mercury -- 3/14/12

Next target: Extending BART under downtown San Jose -- Just a few hours after federal and Bay Area transit leaders raised champagne glasses Monday to celebrate clearing the final financial hurdle to extend BART to East San Jose, attention turned to downtown San Jose. Gary Richards in the San Jose Mercury -- 3/14/12

Chu wants gas prices to drop -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu reversed his stance on high gasoline prices, telling a Senate committee Tuesday, "Of course we don't want the price of gasoline to go up. We want it to go down." Carolyn Lochhead in the San Francisco Chronicle -- 3/14/12

Food prices climb higher and higher -- How high food prices will go is a matter of debate. The U.S. government predicts consumers will endure a more moderate rate of food inflation this year than in 2011, whereas a group of New England economists who study the role of speculation in commodities markets warn of a new food price bubble by 2013. Andrew Edwards in the San Bernardino Sun -- 3/14/12

Federal grant will bring healthcare jobs to Long Beach -- A $2.8-million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor is expected to create 363 healthcare jobs over the next four years in Long Beach, officials said Tuesday. Ruben Vives in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

   Education

Santa Monica College to offer two-tier course pricing -- The school's governing board has approved a plan to offer certain high-demand classes for a higher price when the regular classes have filled up. It's believed to be the first such scheme in the nation. Carla Rivera in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

Lopez: Looking out of state for what California once offered -- Great education institutions are being decimated through budget cuts in this state. Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

LAUSD approves worst-case scenario budget plan -- The Los Angeles Unified board voted Tuesday for a worst-case budget-balancing plan that would gut popular programs like Adult and Early-Childhood Education for 2012-13, although a recent infusion of state money offers hope that some cuts may be restored by fall. Barbara Jones in the Los Angeles Daily News Stephen Ceasar in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau to step down -- Robert Birgeneau will step down as chancellor of UC Berkeley in December after eight years navigating the public university through massive budget cuts and raucous student protests, even as he maintained its status as one of the world's great research institutions. Nanette Asimov, Will Kane in the San Francisco Chronicle -- 3/14/12

GOP proposals would make it easier to investigate, fire teachers -- Republican state lawmakers proposed Tuesday to make it easier to investigate and fire teachers over allegations of sexual abuse, a response to controversy swirling around the Los Angeles Unified School District. Patrick McGreevy LA Times PolitiCal$ -- 3/14/12

Fensterwald: Weighted formula’s heavy load -- Some of the “losers” under Gov. Jerry Brown’s school finance proposal said their piece in testimony Tuesday before a subcommittee of the Assembly Budget Committee. A half-dozen superintendents from suburban and rural districts detailed how Brown’s weighted student formula, favoring districts with large numbers of English learners and low-income children, would harm them. John Fensterwald educatedguess -- 3/14/12

Transitional kindergarten could be spared budget cuts -- Another one of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposals has run aground in the Assembly. Chris Megerian LA Times PolitiCal$ Kimberly Beltran SI&A Cabinet Report -- 3/14/12

Baron: A win for Transitional Kindergarten -- Ever since Gov. Brown released his first budget plan for 2012-13, he’s been floating various proposals to get rid of TK, making it something of a moving target that has changed from week to week. Kathryn Baron TopEd -- 3/14/12

   Health Care

Calstar helicopter rides can cost $10,000 -- A helicopter ambulance is often a lifesaver for victims of auto accidents, heart attacks, falls from cliffs, gunshot wounds or other sudden, life-threatening emergencies. But be prepared for some sticker shock. A flight to the hospital can cost $10,000 or more, and insurance won't always cover it. KEVIN HOWE in the Santa Cruz Sentinel -- 3/14/12

   Environment

Drinking water at risk from ag pollution, study finds -- A new UC Davis study pins most of the nitrate contamination of California groundwater on agriculture and says the problem is likely to get worse in coming decades. DONNA JONES in the Santa Cruz Sentinel -- 3/14/12

The future is here, says head of Ford's electric division -- As California gas prices creep toward $5 a gallon and researchers pronounce that just a modest global rise in temperature could melt the Greenland ice sheet, engineers and transportation designers are busy creating a fossil fuel-free future – or at least one in which fossil fuels are used a lot less. Susanne Rust California Watch -- 3/14/12

This Winter Looking Like Fourth Warmest for Lower 48 -- Last week’s State of the Climate report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that this winter is stacking up as the warmest since 2000 and the fourth warmest on record in the contiguous United States. Jeremy Miller KQED Climate Watch -- 3/14/12

   Also..

Developmental centers' police need immediate fixes, state officials say -- Investigations of patient abuse by in-house police at California’s institutions for the developmentally disabled have been unacceptably poor for years and must be fixed immediately, state officials and patient advocates agreed during a hearing today. Ryan Gabrielson California Watch -- 3/14/12

Protests force PayPal to drop attempts at e-book censorship -- PayPal, the online payment service owned by San Jose-based eBay, is backtracking on its policy against processing sales of e-books containing themes of rape, bestiality or incest after protests from authors and anti-censorship activist groups. Alistair Barr Reuters -- 3/14/12

Hieroglyphics turn prisoner away from a life of crime -- The high school dropout became fascinated after reading a prestigious archaeology magazine in a prison waiting room. The rest may be history. Thomas H. Maugh II in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

   POTUS 44

White House setbacks on health care, energy -- The White House ran into two bumps in the road on domestic policy Tuesday: higher gross costs for healthcare reform and stiffer Senate resistance to wind and solar power subsidies backed by President Barack Obama. DAVID ROGERS Politico -- 3/14/12

   Beltway

Southern sweep: Rick Santorum takes Mississippi and Alabama -- Rick Santorum has won the Mississippi GOP presidential primary, according to an Associated Press projection, following his earlier triumph in neighboring Alabama on Tuesday. Michael A. Memoli in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

Mitt Romney muddles on -- Nothing is settled after the Alabama and Mississippi GOP primaries but the two states injected a dose of clarity into the Republican battle Tuesday: Rick Santorum’s twin victories make him the unambiguous conservative alternative, Newt Gingrich has no obvious rationale for going forward and Mitt Romney must once again stage a crisis-and-recovery act to reassert his claim on a GOP primary that just keeps going. JONATHAN MARTIN Politico -- 3/14/12

Hiltzik: Should Mitt Romney take his Medicare? -- It has become something of a tradition for Social Security and Medicare to publicize their benefits for the average American by enlisting celebrity 65-year-olds to enroll with public fanfare. The current star on Social Security’s website: Patty Duke, who turned 65 in December. Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times$ -- 3/14/12

Road for Santorum Depends On the Next Move by Gingrich -- Once again, Americans are waking up to headlines about multiple primary-night victories for Rick Santorum over the man who is still widely considered to be the most likely Republican nominee this year, Mitt Romney. JIM RUTENBERG in the New York Times$ -- 3/14/12

Santorum hoping ideology will trump electability -- Ever since he swept three contests on a single night in February, Rick Santorum has argued that the Republican presidential nomination battle is effectively a two-man race between himself and Mitt Romney. Dan Balz in the Washington Post -- 3/14/12