SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian, seeking millions of dollars in state aid for victims of the Whittier earthquake, Saturday called a special session of the Legislature for Nov. 9 to take up his disaster relief proposal.
Deukmejian requested quick legislative approval of a package of legislation that would include state grants for "needy individuals and families," tax breaks for quake victims and state funds to help rebuild schools and other public buildings.
"In the wake of this tragedy, thousands of Southern Californians are now struggling to rebuild their homes, their businesses and their lives," the governor said in his weekly radio address. Aid that will be provided by the federal government, he said, "is essential and helpful, but it is not enough for many who were hit hardest by the earthquakes."
Deukmejian's call for a special session on Nov. 9 marks only the second time he has called the Legislature back during a recess to address a pressing state problem. Last year, he convened an emergency session to choose a site for a state prison in Los Angeles County--only to have the Legislature reject his proposal.
Legislative leaders could not be reached Saturday to comment on the special session to aid earthquake victims. However, Deukmejian Administration officials and members of the Legislature had met privately in recent weeks to negotiate a disaster relief package that would be acceptable to all sides.
State and local officials are still attempting to assess the damage from the Oct. 1 earthquake and the aftershocks that followed. The state Office of Emergency Services has estimated the loss at $213.6 million, but Michael Guerin, a spokesman for the agency, said the final total is certain to be considerably more.
"Every day we look at this we get new information," Guerin said. "Homeowners and business people are now finding things they had not noticed before." Deukmejian said in his speech that federal and state aid to earthquake victims would total an estimated $120 million. Tom Beermann, a spokesman for the governor, said later that it is unclear how much of the money would actually come from the state under Deukmejian's proposal.
The governor's plan calls for providing state grants to individuals and families that suffered damage from the earthquake. Deukmejian would favor a maximum grant of at least $5,000, Beermann said, but the final figure must be negotiated by the governor and the Legislature.
Eligible for Grants
Earthquake victims are already eligible for grants from the federal government of up to $5,000. In addition, they can obtain low-interest loans to help rebuild their homes and businesses, Beermann said. By Friday, 24,282 applications had been submitted for emergency assistance, according to a spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Services.
The Republican governor also called for spending state funds to help rebuild public facilities damaged by the earthquake, including city and county buildings and schools.
"With this combination of federal and state funding," he said, "it is my intent to provide the funding to fully repair state and local public facilities, including our schools."
Another element of the governor's package would require county assessors to reassess homes damaged by the earthquake and to reduce the victims' property taxes. The loss in county revenues as a result of the new assessments would be replaced by the state, under the governor's plan.
Another Tax Break
To provide an additional tax break, Deukmejian also proposed that state income taxpayers be allowed to claim their losses from the earthquake over a period of years, rather than just in the 1987 tax year, as the current law requires.
In addition to his legislative package, Deukmejian called on the state's lending institutions to "work compassionately" with earthquake victims who may have difficulty meeting their "credit obligations."
"I believe it is essential that our financial institutions consider the waiver or delay of traditional credit oversight and penalties to help assist earthquake victims in all affected counties," Deukmejian said in a letter sent Saturday to the California Bankers Assn.
Deukmejian alone has the authority to call a special session of the Legislature and to decide what issues will be considered.
Some lawmakers had sought to take up other matters during the special session, including disaster aid for the victims of recent fires in Northern California.
But Deukmejian refused to broaden the session and expressed the hope that the earthquake relief package could be approved in one day.