Business Highlights

By The Associated Press

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Banks rethink the branch, but will it work?

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ In an age when checks can be deposited by smartphone and almost everyone retrieves cash from ATMs, the corner bank can seem a relic, with its paper deposit slips, marble countertops and human tellers behind glass partitions.

But some banking executives say the brick-and-mortar branch is still the best way to serve existing customers and snag new ones. They're trying to rebuild the nation's neighborhood banks into hip, airy spaces where customers sign up for loans without touching a piece of paper, sign in to ATMs with a tap of their smartphones and talk to off-site tellers by video.

Flashiness is only part of the reason for the makeovers. Mounting costs from legal fees and new regulations â¿¿ vestiges of the financial crisis â¿¿ have given the banks good reason to become more efficient. The new branches will help them replace expensive human workers with cheaper machines, a development that could eventually make the bank teller an endangered species.

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Obama budget: Spending cuts, higher smokers' taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Mixing modest curbs on spending with tax increases reviled by Republicans, President Barack Obama proposed a $3.8 trillion budget on Wednesday that would raise taxes on smokers and wealthy Americans and trim Social Security benefits for millions.

Obama's 2014 blueprint combines a $242 billion infusion of new spending for road and rail projects, early education and jobs initiatives â¿¿ all favored by Democrats â¿¿ with longer-term savings from programs including Medicare and the military. It promises at least a start in cutting huge annual federal deficits.

The president pitched his plan as a good-faith offer to his GOP rivals since it incorporates a proposal he made to Republicans in December that wasn't radically different from a GOP plan drafted by House Speaker John Boehner. But it follows January's bitterly fought 10-year, $600 billion-plus tax increase that has stiffened GOP resolve against further tax hikes.

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