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California Lawmakers Back Sales-Tax Increase for Earthquake Relief

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The California legislature last week approved a quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax to generate relief funds for the Bay Area earthquake.

Estimates of the costs of the Oct. 17 temblor now are running upwards of $7 billion, including $80 million in damages to public schools.

Meeting in a special session, the legislature voted overwhelmingly to implement the 13-month tax on Dec. 1, in time to capture revenue from the Christmas shopping season.

Some Republican lawmakers had objected to the increase, arguing that the money should come instead from the state's emergency reserve.

Gov. George Deukmejian was expected this week to sign the measure, which would temporarily raise the sales tax from 6 to 6.25 cents.

Officials said last week they were uncertain, however, how much of the money would go toward repairs in public schools, many of which were still being assessed for damages.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig said in a statement that the comparatively small amount of structural damage suffered by the schools demonstrated the value of strict school-construction standards. Almost all schools were able to open within a week of the disaster, he noted. (See Education Week, Oct. 25, 1989.)

Most of the hard-hit schools were in Santa Cruz County, Mr. Honig said. Damages in excess of $500,000 also were reported in the Campbell, Cupertino, San Francisco, and Sequoia Union High School districts.

Ten Bay Area classroom buildings, four gymnasiums, and three administration buildings remained closed last week indefinitely or pending inspection, said Duwayne Brooks, assistant state superintendent for school-facilities planning.

The federal government also has approved a $3.45-billion package of earthquake aid for the region. But Mr. Honig said he would need to work closely with other state officials to ensure that a portion of the federal relief was channeled to schools.

"I'm very concerned that the flow of relief money into the schools not follow the same pattern as after the Whittier quake," Mr. Honig said. Although the earthquake centered around that southern-California city occurred two years ago, he noted, "not one dime of the $4.6 million in U.S. Department of Education emergency-relief money has made it into California schools yet."

Mr. Honig said current estimates of damage from the recent earthquake do not include costs for tempoel10lrary housing, staff overtime, equipment replacement, and cleanup.

"Additionally, we're concerned about the possible effect of the quake on the asbestos situation," Mr. Honig said. "Previously stable locations may have had asbestos fibers shaken loose or exposed."

The state chief also said he would seek a back-up communication system for future disasters. State officials were unable to get through to Santa Cruz for two days following the earthquake, Mr. Honig said, and communications were "extremely limited" between the education department and other counties and districts.

Mr. Honig said the earthquake also has raised questions about the safety of portable classrooms, some of which were shaken off their blocks.

In South Carolina, meanwhile, officials reported last week that all but three school buildings were back in use in the wake of Hurricane Hugo. The September storm caused tens of millions of dollars in damages to schools in North and South Carolina. (See Education Week, Oct. 4, 1989.)

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