Extra! Orion racks up another award
Chico State University’s student newspaper, The Orion, has won yet another national award.

For the fourth time in five years, the paper took home the Newspaper of the Year award presented by the Associated Collegiate Press at a March 3 convention in Los Angeles.

Managing Editor Neisha Gates admitted to a little trepidation because of the standard set in previous years—"the feeling that if we didn’t get the award we’d be letting everybody down. There was a lot of pressure in that respect.”

Not to worry.

The Orion staff got to pick an issue to submit, and they settled on that of Feb. 6, 2002—only the second issue of the semester.

The paper’s other awards range from the Society of Professional Journalists’ “best college weekly” to the prestigious Pacemaker award given out by the National Association of Newspapers and Associated Collegiate Press.

Local Kmarts spared the corporate axe
The Chico and Paradise Kmarts have apparently avoided closure, unlike 284 other Kmarts across the country that have been ordered closed by corporate headquarters in Troy, Mich.

In early January, Kmart filed for bankruptcy after poor holiday sales and apparently failed campaigns to take on and overcome the low prices of Wal-Mart and the trendier merchandise offered by Target.

Initially, the company said it would wait until the end of April and then evaluate the stores to determine which were underachieving. At that time market analysts suggested as many as 700 of the chains 2,114 stores could be on the chopping block. Julie Fracker, the Kmart media contact in Troy, said the company “does not anticipate any more store closures of this size in the future.”

However, she added, that she “can’t eliminate any isolated, individual” closings of stores that are deemed underperforming.

‘Securitizing’ of tobacco funds
When 46 U.S. states won their landmark case against the tobacco industry in 1998, policymakers salivated over what the $206 billion settlement could buy for their constituents. There was talk of developing teen anti-smoking campaigns and maybe even solving some of the expensive health problems that years of tobacco use had wrought on the American public.

But with the windfall came the worry, as the Butte County Board of Supervisors discovered at last Tuesday’s meeting. Because the settlement money is far from secure—payments are based on the tobacco companies’ remaining financially solvent, a condition impossible to predict over the lifespan of the agreement—some local governments have opted to “securitize” the funds.

Securitizing is a method of selling the estimated $2.4 million per year in payments the county would receive to bondholders in exchange for a lump sum payment of about $30 million dollars. The bond holders thus would assume the risk.

But as county Treasurer Dick Puelicher explained to the board, the process carries its own risks, and if done incorrectly or at a time when interest rates are less than optimal, it could end up costing the county millions in lost revenue.

“It’s not exactly boilerplate stuff,” Puelicher said. “This is something the market is not yet familiar with.”

Since only California and New York opted to share their settlement money with local governments, only a few U.S. counties reportedly have tried the process. San Diego County is probably the biggest county in California to securitize tobacco funds. But since there has been talk recently that the California State Association of Counties is trying to enlist a pool of counties to securitize together and thus cut costs in the venture, it has put pressure on the board to make a decision.

Supervisor Jane Dolan said she resented being pressured on the issue and was disappointed that the board wasn’t given more information about the process. In the end, she cast the sole nay vote against forming a committee to study the process.