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Atom Smasher Bond Bill Falls Far Short in Senate

August 28, 1987|DOUGLAS SHUIT | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — California's struggling effort to win a $4.4-billion federal contract to build the world's biggest atom smasher suffered another setback Thursday when a bill containing $560 million in necessary bond financing fell far short of winning enough Senate votes for passage.

Needing 27 votes--a two-thirds majority of the Senate--the measure attracted 19 supporters. There were no votes cast against it.

With the U.S. Department of Energy requiring states to submit bids by next Wednesday, there is still time for supporters of the project to work out a compromise and revive the issue. But, after the vote, authors of the legislation clearly faced an uphill battle.

Republicans, as they said they would, refused to vote for the bill, rejecting out of hand a proposed compromise offered by Democrats on an affirmative action provision aimed at steering 15% of the business from the $560-million bond issue to firms owned by minorities and 5% to companies owned by women.

But a small group of Democrats also abstained. The Democratic opponents complained that the affirmative action goals were not set high enough. Two of the Democrats who represent agricultural regions, Sen. Rose Ann Vuich of Dinuba and Dan McCorquodale of San Jose, also said they were concerned about opposition in farming communities.

Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), carrying the legislation in the Senate, said he remains optimistic that the Legislature would act in time for the state to submit its bid.

California is in intense competition with other states for the atom smasher, called the superconducting super collider. The collider will be built underground and will be an oval-shaped tube that will be 53 miles in circumference and represent the world's largest scientific instrument.

Two California sites are being proposed, both within an hour's drive of the state capital. The project will bring with it thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in increased economic activity over a period of years, economists say.

Garamendi blamed the minority contracting provision for opposition in the Senate. It was amended into the bill Wednesday by a two-house conference committee despite Republican opposition.

The requirement setting affirmative action goals, he said, "came at the very last minute." He said the issue "creates a lot of conflict," but predicted that "it will be resolved."

Trying to put the best face on the vote, Garamendi said the political divisions in the Legislature were "very California. We are in the process of forming a consensus in California, which is not done easily."

Compromise Unacceptable

Republicans said the compromise legislation offered by Garamendi and other Democrats was unacceptable to them and urged the majority party to come up with a new proposal.

Senate Republican Floor Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno predicted that if a vote on the same legislation is taken in the Assembly, it will also fail.

By refusing passage in the Senate, Maddy said, "we will send the message back that we will have to go into another conference and adjust and work with the language in this bill between now and next Wednesday."

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