SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The leader of the Oregon Senate says he will propose a dramatic increase in state grants to make improvements at public schools at risk of collapse from powerful earthquakes.
Geologists say a magnitude-9.0 earthquake is inevitable in Oregon, posing serious risks to roads, utilities and buildings. The last quake of that size in Oregon was in 1700, and both the public and scientists have grown more aware in recent decades about the risk of the next one.
A 2007 study found that more than 1,000 Oregon school buildings have a high risk of collapse during a major earthquake. But the state has granted money to only 25 locations for seismic upgrades, the Salem Statesman Journal reported Monday.
The study of statewide seismic risk estimated that making all the school buildings in Oregon seismically sound would cost nearly $10 billion.
Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem said he would release details of his proposal Tuesday, and it would involve borrowing by the state to finance the grants.
At a budget committee meeting last week, Sen. Richard Devlin of Tualatin said there is talk of a proposal for seismic upgrades to schools ranging from $200 million to $300 million.
"That would be an entirely new responsibility that hasn't been done before," Devlin said.
Courtney's proposal comes as the Legislature considers spending $250 million on a three-year project for seismic upgrades to the state Capitol. It faces political pressure amid the perception that lawmakers are prioritizing themselves ahead of children.
If both measures passed in 2015, they would eat up a sizable chunk of the state's bonding capacity, which is set by the state treasurer's office and amounted to $781 million in fiscal year 2013.
"I think we will have some very vivid or very intense conversations as to what we want to do," Sen. Fred Girod of Stayton said at the budget meeting. "If I was going to spend money, it would be to make sure kids have a fighting chance over on the coast."