Governor Signs Quake Tax, Other Relief Bills


Pledging to do more if it is needed, Gov. George Deukmejian on Monday signed emergency legislation raising the 6% state sales tax by a quarter-cent for 13 months to provide relief for earthquake-stricken Northern California.

Flanked by San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and more than a dozen state lawmakers at the Ferry Building here, Deukmejian said the legislative package approved in a three-day special session last week proves that Californians in times of crisis stand together as "a family."

The governor's action came one day short of three weeks after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked Northern California from south of Santa Cruz to north of Berkeley. The Oct. 17 quake killed 65 people, collapsed the double-deck Nimitz Freeway in Oakland and part of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and caused an estimated $7 billion in damage in the Bay Area and beyond.

In addition to the $800-million sales tax increase--which will cost Californians 25 cents on every $100 purchased from Dec. 1 of this year through New Year's Eve, 1990--Deukmejian also signed bills to speed the repair of damaged highways, public buildings and parks, match federal aid granted to individuals and businesses, and allow victims of the freeway collapse to collect damages from the state without going through the courts.

Deukmejian signed the bills after riding across San Francisco Bay by ferryboat from Oakland. He said he wanted to illustrate the different forms of mass transit that Bay Area residents are using to avoid gridlock on the region's roadways.

If more state aid is needed, Deukmejian promised to finish the job before he leaves office next year.

"I give the people of this area my pledge--I will do whatever we have to do," he said.

Although there was intense opposition to the tax increase from within his own party in the Assembly and calls for an even higher increase from many Democrats, the Republican chief executive praised lawmakers for their quick, if not unanimous, action.

"I think it demonstrates very clearly that California is a family and that people throughout California . . . have seen fit to support" the victims of the earthquake, Deukmejian said.

Some of those who have complained that the Legislature did not provide enough relief were at the ceremony with Deukmejian. But none offered criticism. Instead, Deukmejian, Agnos and the lawmakers took turns complimenting each other on their response to the crisis.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) said the Legislature "performed magnificently." Agnos, who presented the governor with a paperweight made from a piece of marble that fell at San Francisco City Hall in the quake, said the official response represented "government's shining hour."

Deukmejian's ferry ride from Oakland's Jack London Square took about 30 minutes aboard the Catalina Empress, a 700-passenger boat that normally carries tourists from Long Beach and San Pedro to Santa Catalina Island. The ferry was one of about 10 that have been used since the quake severed access across the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco.

The governor said he would consider a continued state subsidy and legislation that would keep the ferries in business even after the bridge is repaired. The bridge is expected to reopen by Thanksgiving.

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