Buoying hopes of elected officials here and in Orange County, a state Assembly committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a measure that would ask Orange County voters next year to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to build a new jail and court facilities.
The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), had appeared to be in trouble just a month ago when the Assembly's Local Government Committee chairman held it for study and possible consolidation with other sales-tax bills proposed for Los Angeles, Ventura and Riverside counties.
But committee members agreed on Wednesday to let the Orange County measure, which at the earliest could be on the ballot in June, 1990, stand on its own, voting 6 to 0 to send it along its way in the legislative process.
The bill must now be considered by two other Assembly committees and the full Assembly, then be returned to the Senate for final concurrence before it is presented to Gov. George Deukmejian to be signed into law.
One of the committee votes to approve the bill came from Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), who Bergeson said Wednesday helped give her bill a crucial boost with behind-the-scenes lobbying of his committee colleagues.
Bergeson's bill is an integral part of a governmental duet being coordinated by state lawmakers and Orange County officials, both desperate for money to expand overcrowded jail facilities.
$121 Million a Year
The bill would authorize county officials to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax that is projected to yield $121 million a year, crucial seed money for the planned 6,000-bed Gypsum Canyon jail that is projected to cost $700 million.
In November, Orange County voters also will be asked to approve raising the current 6-cent-per-dollar sales tax by a half-cent for transportation improvements.
Bergeson has vowed not to move her jail tax measure to the governor until the Board of Supervisors makes a decision on where the new jail will be built. With that, the focus of the jail effort now shifts to Orange County, where supervisors are scheduled to vote Aug. 30 on the Gypsum Canyon facility.
"We won't move the bill until the board has taken action," Bergeson said Wednesday after the committee hearing.
Bergeson's use of the bill to coax a decision from county supervisors was part of a complicated political deal she struck with Santa Ana city officials, who at one time opposed the measure because they feared it might be used by the county to simply expand the existing County Jail in their community.
Had Bergeson's measure been folded into an omnibus bill with the other counties on Wednesday, she would have lost the ability to hold it back from the governor's desk and keep her commitment to the Santa Ana officials.
Recognizing that, the committee on Wednesday agreed to split her bill from the pack and let it stand alone.
The move pleased Santa Ana Councilman Miguel A. Pulido, who watched the proceedings Wednesday.
"I feel pretty good," Pulido said after the bill was approved. "It's a pretty significant step for us."