Sales tax increase eyed as California considers terrorism costs

By Don Thompson The Associated Press
Thursday December 20, 2001

SACRAMENTO — California may need a quarter-cent sales tax increase to help pay the cost of responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, legislators said Wednesday, even as they called on the federal government to cover the bulk of the new precautions. 

Police, fire and medical groups already are drafting a November 2002 ballot measure that would boost the sales tax and provide more than $1 billion a year. 

“We’re not adequately prepared because we’re not adequately funded,” said Assembly Transportation Chair John Dutra, D-Fremont, as the Assembly’s Task Force on the Impact of Terrorism in California drafted recommendations for legislation and spending to be considered next year. 

The money should go to “first responders” like police, fire and emergency workers, suggested Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Carl Washington, D-Paramount. 

But other lawmakers quickly added to the possible beneficiaries. 

The state’s public health system is “woefully underfunded” and unprepared for possible bioterrorism attacks, and should be first in line for more money, said Health Committee Chairwoman Helen Thomson, D-Davis. Trauma centers that would likely handle injuries from terror attacks also are financially strapped, she said. 

California must combat drivers’ license fraud with high-tech — and costly — methods to cut counterfeiting, said Labor and Employment Chairman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood. He also wondered if the state should be doing more to increase security at the state Capitol. 

There is an urgent need to improve radio communications between law enforcement and emergency response agencies, and increase bioterrorism training for emergency responders, said Governmental Organization Chairman George Nakano, D-Torrance. 

It would cost about $300 million just to safeguard the most vulnerable state waterways, offered water committee Chairman Dean Florez, D-Shafter. 

Los Angeles-area transit systems need terrorism safety training, surveillance equipment and financial help because of decreased ridership, said Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach. 

And tourism, travel, manufacturing and other industries are calling for tax incentives and other subsidies to help them recover from business downturns they blame on the terror attacks, said Revenue and Taxation Chairwoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro. 

Since Sept. 11, the state has beefed up security at bridges, highways, nuclear plants, airports, aqueducts, and other potential targets at an estimated cost of $1 million a day. 

Law enforcement “is spending at levels that cannot be sustained without additional resources,” said Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. 

Early versions of the proposed sales tax initiative give 28 percent of new income to fire agencies and 20 percent each to city police, county sheriffs and hospital and trauma centers. 

Tax opponents said the money should come from the state’s existing budget, already hard hit by the economic downturn and a dispute over repaying the money the state has spent to buy electricity on behalf of three cash-strapped utilities. 

Hertzberg and other lawmakers said they must put bipartisan pressure on Congress to pay the bulk of states’ costs. 

Gov. Gray Davis told U.S. homeland security director Tom Ridge a week ago that California had spent $143 million directly attributable to the attacks. 

Ridge said the federal government hopes to make a “substantial contribution” in the next federal budget year, though he offered no specific proportion. 

“We are putting an enormous financial burden this state and on this country,” Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said Wednesday. “We need federal funding desperately.” 

Californians can make suggestions to the Assembly task force by calling: 1-800-977-SAFE. 


On the Net: 

Read about the Assembly task force at www.californiasafe.ca.gov.