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State Beats Clock With Collider Bid : Atom Smasher Plan Submitted to U.S. After Affirmative Action Compromise

September 03, 1987|DOUGLAS SHUIT and PAUL HOUSTON | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — With time running out on California's right to bid for a $4.4-billion federal atom smasher project, Gov. George Deukmejian and legislative leaders reached a delicate compromise on affirmative action goals Wednesday that allowed the state to submit a bid at literally the 11th hour.

As the clock ticked toward an 11 a.m. deadline set by the U.S. Department of Energy, members of the California Collider Commission held an emergency meeting in Deukmejian's office and voted to authorize the state to hand over its bid with only 10 minutes to spare.

It took unusually swift maneuvering and negotiating on all political sides to resurrect the bid from what seemed to be a legislative grave after state Assembly Democrats on Tuesday night scuttled a previous compromise on grounds that its affirmative action goals were not high enough.

Delivered by Lobbyist

"We're in," declared Paul Sweet, a University of California lobbyist, who delivered the bid at Department of Energy offices in Washington moments before the deadline.

Sweet had waited for word from California on the steps of Energy Department headquarters, holding a briefcase containing a mobile phone and surrounded by a swarm of reporters, TV cameras and federal officials gathered in brilliant sunshine. As the deadline approached, Sweet got antsy and went inside the building to use a pay phone to call UC President David Gardner, chairman of of the Collider Commission, who finally gave him the go-ahead to walk inside with the state's bid.

The compromise that made it possible established a goal of steering 15% of the contracts to minority-owned firms and 5% to firms owned by women.

With agreement on that basic point, lawmakers were able to put the collider legislation on Deukmejian's desk Wednesday night.

Even with the bid in, California is far from assured of being named by the Department of Energy as the site for the Superconducting Super Collider project, which, if approved by Congress and ultimately built, will be the world's largest atom smasher.

The bid merely entered California into a sweepstakes with 24 other states, including New York, Illinois, Texas and North Carolina, for a project that will mean an economic bonanza for whichever state is chosen.

Partisan Conflict

The political agreement between the governor and legislative leaders came after the state's bid appeared to collapse Tuesday night because of partisan fighting over affirmative action goals. Democrats insisted that the goals be part of legislation authorizing a $560-million revenue bond issue to provide the state's share of financing for the project. (The bond funds would be used to purchase land and make site improvements.)

Assembly Democrats on Tuesday night refused to vote on the bond bill because they thought a Republican affirmative action proposal that would have steered just under 15% of the state contracts to firms owned by minorities and women did not go far enough.

But pressure built. The Senate, less than an hour after the Assembly adjourned without taking action, passed the collider legislation on a 30-3 vote. A major sponsor of collider legislation, Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), asserted that California would be a national "laughingstock" if it dropped the ball on such a major project.

The state already has a dismal record in recent years in competing with other states for major high-technology projects. It has lost major new scientific projects to New York, Texas, and North Carolina. The loss of a federal earthquake research center to New York last year was particularly galling to California officials because this state is so closly identified with earthquakes.

But overnight Deukmejian agreed to raise the affirmative action goals to a mix that would steer 15% of the contracts to minority-owned firms and 5% to firms owned by women. Those were the same goals contained in collider legislation that was defeated by Republicans in the Senate last week.

The agreement was confirmed during a luncheon meeting between the governor and legislative leaders.

Assembly Republicans remained opposed to affirmative action goals, but the compromise was fashioned in a way that allowed lawmakers to vote on two bills: one containing the $560-million bond proposal and another containing the affirmative action goals.

This arrangement pleased Assembly Republican Floor Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, who along with other members of his party refused to vote for the collider legislation as long as it contained affirmative action goals.

Nolan continued to criticize the Democrats' affirmative action amendments. "This is not affirmative action, this is quotas," Nolan said.

Near evening, the Senate passed the affirmative action bill on a strong bipartisan vote of 30 to 2 and sent it to the Assembly, which approved it 43 to 29. The bond financing measure cleared the Senate 34 to 0 and the Assembly 57 to 10. Both measures went to the governor and could be signed into law as early as today.

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